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Husband Kills Wife, But His Family Inherits From Her Estate

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In April of 1998 Edward M. Covert shot and killed his wife Kathleen, and then killed himself. Out of that family tragedy arose an interesting legal problem: who would inherit Kathleen Covert’s estate?

Mr. and Mrs. Covert lived and died in New York, but the legal problem was not unique to that state. As in all of the U.S. states, New York has a rule designed to keep wrongdoers from profiting from their misdeeds: although Mr. Covert technically survived his wife, he would be treated as having died before her for purposes of inheritance.

Like many couples Mr. and Mrs. Covert had signed mirror-image wills. First they left everything to one another, but in the event of simultaneous death they divided their assets into three equal shares. One share was to go to Mr. Covert’s parents and one to Mrs. Covert’s parents. The final share was to be divided among both Mr. Covert’s three sisters and Mrs. Covert’s two siblings.

Mrs. Covert left an estate of about $225,000. In addition she and her husband were joint tenants with right of survivorship on some additional property; although he did not lose his own interest in that property by killing his wife, he could not receive her half interest despite the fact that he actually did survive her.

That meant that Mr. Covert’s parents and siblings would receive almost half of Mrs. Covert’s estate. Mrs. Covert’s family did not think that result was right—after all, his family would then benefit from his misdeed, and they did not believe that should be permitted. They objected to the proposed distribution of any of Mrs. Covert’s property to her husband’s family. They also argued that Mr. Covert’s life insurance policy and retirement benefits, which named Mrs. Covert as primary beneficiary, should be paid into her estate and ultimately distributed to her family members. Both the life insurance and the retirement benefits named Mr. Covert’s parents as alternate beneficiaries.

After the trial court agreed with the arguments of Mrs. Covert’s family Mr. Covert’s parents appealed. The New York Court of Appeals reversed, ordering that the rule disinheriting wrongdoers did not disqualify their family members from receiving property. Since Mrs. Covert actually died before Mr. Covert, and Mr. Covert was treated as having died before his wife, both estates would pass to the alternate recipients named in their wills. Since the life insurance and retirement accounts named alternate beneficiaries, they would pass according to the contract terms to Mr. Covert’s parents. Matter of the Estates of Covert, 11/20/2001.

The result would have been the same under Arizona law. Although Arizona treats a killer as having predeceased his victim, the disinheritance does not extend to innocent family members.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.