The Forfeiture Rule

 In Probate

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The Forfeiture Rule is a rule of public policy which in certain circumstances prevents anyone who has unlawfully killed another from acquiring a benefit in consequence of the killing. As such, they are prevented from receiving a benefit from that person’s estate, even if they were due to inherit under a Will or the Intestacy Rules as well as entitlement to assets falling outside of the estate, such as pension or life insurance policies.

In certain circumstances, the Court can intervene and has a wide discretion to do so. All the circumstances of the individual case must be considered, and the court must be satisfied that it would be unfair or unjust to deprive the perpetrator of a benefit from the estate.

In the case of Amos v Mancini, this was considered in detail. In this very sad case, Mrs Amos drove into the back of a queue of stationary vehicles and as a result of the crash, Mr Amos died. Mrs Amos was the main beneficiary of Mr Amos’ estate, but as Mr Amos died as a result of her actions, the Forfeiture Rule took effect. The circumstances of Mr Amos’ death were not intentional by Mrs Amos, and the Court concluded that it would be unjust for the Forfeiture Rule to apply so as to deprive Mrs Amos of her share in their former matrimonial home and the gift in his will. The Court said if the Forfeiture Rule applied, it would be “significantly out of proportion to her culpability in the offence in question”.

However, this can be distinguished from the case of Challen v Challen. The circumstances were different in that Mrs Challen did intend to kill her husband. Mrs Challen suffered from psychiatric illness as a result of her relationship with Mr Challen. Mrs Challen was the victim of physical and emotional abuse perpetrated by Mr Challen over a period of their 40-year relationship. Mrs Challen subsequently guilty plea to manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility. Interestingly, despite Mrs Challen’s intentional killing of Mr Challen, the Court concluded that the justice of the case required them to disapply the Forfeiture Rule. The Court held that this in part due was to Mr Challen’s role leading to his own death. It was noted that every case must be decided on its own merits and that the level of abuse coupled with Mrs Challen’s diagnosis meant that the facts were so extraordinary that the Court did not expect them easily to be replicated.

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These cases illustrate the Court’s wide discretionary powers in modifying the Forfeiture Rule, where it creates an outcome that is manifestly unjust or unfair.

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