Real Life Horror Stories: Forfeiture Rule
It is that time of year – the crisp leaves fall from the trees, most enjoying seasonal treats, the days get shorter and colder, but a favourite season for many. I am personally a HUGE fan of Halloween and enjoy a good horror story, and it is the perfect time to share a few...
The Forfeiture Rule
We will start with an interesting piece of case law. This article relates to the forfeiture rule (Forfeiture Act 1982), which means the rule of public policy in which certain circumstances precludes a person who has unlawfully killed (or has aided, abetted, counselled or procured) another from acquiring a benefit from their estate in consequence of the killing.
In simple terms, you cannot benefit from a person’s estate if you have been convicted of killing that person.
In 1910, Hawley Harvey Crippen murdered his wife, Cora. The forfeiture rule applied in this instance and it was found that the husband was unable to benefit from the estate.
The Judge in this case said:
“…no person can obtain, or enforce, any rights resulting to him from his own crime; neither can his representative claiming under him, obtain or enforce any such rights. The human mind revolts at the very idea that any other doctrine could be possible in our system of jurisprudence.”
Of interest, however, the Act does give direction to the Courts to allow some flexibility in applying the rule, depending on the situation and mitigating factors, in some cases of manslaughter.
Ninian v Findlay & Ors 
There remains an ethical debate surrounding assisted suicide, and the case of Ninian v Findlay & Ors  is the existing legal authority which held that the forfeiture rule applies to assisted suicide cases.
By way of background, Mr Ninian was described as a “successful and intelligent businessman” and “fiercely independent”. Sadly, Mr Ninian was diagnosed with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP) in his 80s.
Mr Ninian had arranged to end his life through an assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland.
Mr Ninian’s wife, Mrs Ninian, was initially against her husband’s wishes and discouraged him from going ahead. Eventually, she accepted his decision to end his life, and had assisted him with making arrangements, including travelling with him to Switzerland, but did not provide any assistance in the end of life procedure.
Mr and Mrs Ninian sought legal advice with respect to the decision made by Mr Ninian.
Mr Ninian was found to have had the mental capacity to make the decisions relating to his condition and treatment options and went ahead with the end of life procedure.
When Mrs Ninian returned to the UK, she reported the matter to the police and assisted throughout their enquiries.
Mrs Ninian was at significant risk of being prosecuted under the Suicide Act 1961 but, upon the review of the Crown Prosecution Service, they found that although there was sufficient evidence, it would not be in the public interest to prosecute and that it was a compassionate and not malicious act.
Mrs Ninian then applied under the Forfeiture Act 1982 for the rule to be excluded and to allow her to inherit her husband’s estate.
The Court decided that, even though Mrs Ninian did not carry out the act, Mr Ninian would not have been able to go ahead with the procedure without Mrs Ninian’s involvement. It was therefore found that the rule did apply.
However, the Court then considered that it should apply its direction and considered factors such as:
The police's decision not to prosecute Mrs Ninian
Suggestive evidence of a strong and loving relationship between the couple, who had been married for 34 years
Mr Ninian's strong independent will and retained capacity
Mr Ninian's clear recording of his intentions
Mrs Ninian's efforts to discourage his decision
Both parties seeking independent legal advice prior to the procedure
It was interesting to further note that if the rule was applied, Mrs Ninian’s brother would inherit the estate, however, they were both in support of her application.
After considering the above, the Court found that the case was compelling and exercised its discretion and relief was granted.
The case and the rules are very interesting and spark a debate.
The Debate: Discretion of the Courts
On one hand, it is understandable that a person who kills another should not benefit from their estate. However, if this rule is not applied universally, how much discretion should the Courts have?
These are complex ethical and legal questions that require careful consideration. The forfeiture rule serves as a safeguard against unjust enrichment, but there may be circumstances where exceptions are warranted.
As we delve deeper into the realm of wills and probate-related horror stories, it becomes evident that the law is not always straightforward. The intersection of human emotions, moral dilemmas, and legal principles creates a captivating landscape for exploration.
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The information provided in this article is not intended to constitute professional advice and you should take full and comprehensive legal, accountancy or financial advice as appropriate on your individual circumstances by a fully qualified Solicitor, Accountant or Financial Advisor/Mortgage Broker before you embark on any course of action.