Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Assisted Suicide and Inheritance in Wisconsin

GavelMatthew Berry Reisig (J.D. Candidate, May 2010, American University, Washington College of Law) has published his comment entitled O To A, For Helping Kill O: Wisconsin's Decision not to Bar Inheritance to Individuals who Assist a Decedent in Suicide, 17 Am. U. J. Gender Soc. Pol'y & L. 785 (2009).

The introduction to the article is below:

It has been a long-standing, fundamental maxim of common law that no one shall be permitted to profit by his own fraud, take advantage of his own wrong or to acquire property by his own crime. Like other states, Wisconsin has used this “slayer rule” to disqualify an individual's inheritance rights when he kills the decedent. States have used the slayer rule and subsequently enacted slayer statutes to deter crime and prevent unjust enrichment. 

Nearly every state legislature has codified the common law principle into a slayer statute and has agreed that a prospective beneficiary who murders the benefactor may not collect his inheritance. State courts, however, have inconsistently applied their slayer statutes to crimes other than murder. Most recently, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals did not apply its slayer statute to the offense of assisted suicide in the case of In re Estate of Schunk. 

This Comment argues that Wisconsin should not allow an individual who commits assisted suicide to inherit from a benefactor whose death resulted from the assistance.  Part II examines the historical development of Wisconsin's slayer statute and the State's ban on assisted suicide. Additionally, Part II of this Comment explores canons of statutory interpretation, explains the principles of causation in Wisconsin's criminal code, and discusses the facts and decision in the Schunk case. Part III argues that the Wisconsin Court of Appeals erred in Schunk because its decision frustrated the purpose of the slayer rule by allowing individuals who commit assisted suicide to inherit. Part IV offers policy arguments in support of disqualifying individuals who help others commit suicide from inheriting property of the decedent. Finally, Part V of this Comment concludes that by barring inheritance to individuals who have committed assisted suicide, Wisconsin courts would be consistently applying the State's slayer statute while simultaneously respecting the State's criminal prohibition of assisted suicide. 


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Could you please answer a question for me? If I committed suicide this year would my children get my inheritance? i know there is no estate tax this year so, i need to know the truth of the matter. Thank you...

Posted by: sallie Wilmot | Jun 5, 2010 7:56:18 AM

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