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What is The Forfeiture Rule? Our expert Wills and Probate solicitors explain the term here. 

What is The Forfeiture Rule? 

Defined by section 1 of the Forfeiture Act 1982, as “the rule of public policy which in certain circumstances precludes a person who has unlawfully killed another from acquiring a benefit in consequence of the killing”, the Forfeiture Rule clearly illustrates the position of the law, when one person attempts to benefit from a crime. 
 
For example, if a person murders another, they would not be able to benefit from the deceased’s estate. So, if a murderer would have inherited from their victim, either through their Will or under the Rules of Intestacy if there was no Will, they will not be able to benefit. The purpose of this law is arguably to prevent people convicted of murder or manslaughter from benefitting from their victim’s estate. Under Section 2 of the Forfeiture Act 1982 (“the Act”), which sets out the forfeiture rule, the Court has the power to change the rule as long as they are satisfied that “having regard to the conduct of the offender and of the deceased and to such other circumstances as appear to the Court to be material, the justice of the case requires the effect of the rule to be so modified”. You can find the full Act, here

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How does The Forfeiture Rule work in practice? 

There have been numerous applications to the Court to apply their discretion under section 2 of the Act to waive the Forfeiture rule, however, the Court’s decisions can vary. In Ninian v Findlay and Others [2019] EWHC 297 (Ch), the applicant’s husband had travelled to Dignitas in Switzerland to commit suicide. His wife, the applicant, had travelled with him, as he would be unable to travel alone. Mr Ninian spent time planning this trip, and making preparations to ensure his Wife would not be held accountable for her assistance of his choice, including preparing statements outlining his decision, assessments of his capacity, and making a new Will. Mrs Ninian also sought legal advice upon her return from her trip and handed herself into Police, fully cooperating with their investigations. 
 
Mrs Ninian applied to the Court for relief under the Act and the Court granted this, meaning that whatever was Mrs Ninjan was due, subject to the terms of her late husband’s Will, became hers. 
 
Another case, Henderson v Wilcox and Others [2015] EWHC 2469 (Ch) saw the applicant charged with manslaughter of his mother. Under his mother’s Will, in default of Mr Henderson’s inheritance of his mother’s estate, her nephew was to inherit. Her son applied for relief under the Act, as it was held that his mental health issues had contributed to his mother’s manslaughter. The Court refused the application as it believed that despite his mental health issues, he had capacity to know right from wrong. These cases highlight how the circumstances of every case will be taken into account by the Court when it decides whether relief should be granted under Section 2 of the Act. 

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Calls for domestic violence to be included in The Forfeiture Rule: 

Recently, the Labour MP for Vauxhall in London, Florence Eshalomi, called for a change in the law to extend the Forfeiture Rule to cases of domestic violence contributing to a person’s death. A recent case highlighted the issue for Eshalomi, who spoke to the son of a woman who took her own life at age 56. She was the victim of domestic abuse at the hands of her husband, which her son argues should mean that her husband does not benefit from her estate. The woman changed her Will before her death to ensure her two sons would inherit but sadly the Will was deemed to be invalid after being incorrectly witnessed by only one person. 
 
Eshalomi is due to meet with Boris Johnson to discuss the issue, so our team at MG Legal will be waiting to see whether there are any steps taken to further this issue following this meeting. Read the full article from theguardian.com about the matter, here . 

Contact our Wills and Probate Solicitors: 

Cases involving the forfeiture rule are relatively uncommon. Still, if you have any queries relating to Wills and Probate in any way, and are wondering if there are any reliable will writing solicitors near me, then our Wills and Probate solicitors are local, and here to help. To contact our team at MG Legal about assisting with your Wills, Lasting Powers of Attorney or Probate matter, contact us online here, or email wills@mglegal.co.uk and a member of the team will get back in touch with you within one working hour. 
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