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Victim Does Not Inherit Killer’s Property in Murder-Suicide Case

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MAY 5, 2003 VOLUME 10, NUMBER 44

The common-law principle that a murderer should not benefit financially from his homicide has been codified in most states. “Slayer statutes,” are laws that prevent one who intentionally kills another from inheriting from the victim’s estate. Do “slayer statutes” permit the victim’s estate to inherit from the murderer’s estate?

This question arose recently in a Mississippi case wherein Byron Keith Miller shot his wife, Martha Jeanette Page Miller, and then shot himself. No order of death was determined. Jeanette Page, the murdered woman’s mother and administratrix of her estate, argued that Martha Miller’s estate should be recognized as an heir to Byron Miller’s estate by virtue of Mississippi’s “slayer statute.”

The Lamar County Chancery Court held against Martha Miller’s estate, finding that six-year old Hunter Keith Miller, Byron Miller’s son from a previous marriage, was the only heir at law. The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the Chancery Court decision two weeks ago. In the Matter of the Estate of Miller, March 20, 2003.

Mississippi Justice Waller explained for the Court that “slayer statutes” are narrow in purpose and operate only to prevent the slayer from benefiting from the victim’s death. The slayer statute is silent on whether or not the victim’s estate may take from the slayer’s estate. Its slayer statute does not support the claim of Martha Miller’s estate, it only prohibits Byron’s estate from benefiting from Martha’s.

The Court also found that Mississippi’s adoption of the Uniform Simultaneous Death Law barred Martha Miller’s estate from any claim against Byron Miller’s estate since there was “insufficient proof to establish an order of death.” Under the law the burden of proving the death order belongs to the party whose claim depends on survivorship. As there was insufficient evidence to show that Martha in fact died before Byron did, the law eliminated both Byron and Martha as heirs to each other’s estate.

Arizona has a similar “slayer statute” and a version of the Uniform Simultaneous Death Act. In Arizona, clear and convincing evidence is required to show that one dying in a common tragedy “survived” any other decedent by at least five days. In facts like the Miller case an Arizona victim’s estate should find the same result.

Meanwhile, Arizona courts have addressed a similar question. In a 1984 case, the Arizona Court of Appeals held that the murderer’s interest in community property does not automatically transfer to the victim because of the statute.

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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.