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Spousal Inheritance May be Barred if Homicide is Cause of Death

Losing a spouse is a traumatic experience. During the midst of the tragic loss, however, the surviving spouse must deal with the legal effects of the death, including property and inheritance issues. Our Santa Rosa family law attorney knows that under California law, the surviving spouse has a right to inherit the decedent’s property through intestacy if there is no will or other non-probate instrument.

gun (another finn).jpgYet a high-profile local case is making news across the country which turns this basic marriage inheritance issue on its head. What happens with inheritance issues when one spouse kills the other?

General public policy based rules establish that anyone who kills should not profit from such wrongdoing by allowing the wrongdoer to inherit the property of the donor, either through intestacy, will, or non-probate instruments, such as life insurance.
But what happens when the surviving spouse claims the killing was in self-defense?

The Criminal Case

According to an article in Press Democrat, a Petaluma man, Kenneth Mullennix is on trial for the January 9, 2010 murder of his wife. The couple had been in the midst of marital strife just before the wife’s death. The discord was due to the wife’s extramarital affair. Mullennix admitted that he shot and killed his wife, but he claims that on the night of the incident he was very drunk. He did not recall the exact sequence of events. On the tape of Mullennix’s call to 911, he told the emergency dispatcher that his wife had attacked him and that she was insane. Some evidence suggests that before Mullennix shot and killed his wife, the wife had been in possession of the gun and was pointing it at Mullennix.

If this is in fact true, then, as our Santa Rosa family law lawyer knows, Mullennix may not be barred from inheriting his deceased wife’s property since he was acting in self-defense.

Further supporting the argument that Mullennix was acting in self-defense, Mullennix has testified that his wife had a very violent temper, stating that there were incidents where she came at him with knives and bottles. There were also incidents where she had punched him. On the other hand, the prosecution has offered evidence that depicts Mullennix as a man obsessed with his wife’s affair, ultimately causing him to murder her.

The law states that a person convicted of an intentional and felonious killing cannot inherit from his victim. Hence, a killer may not receive any property transfer from his victim. Because the killing must be willful and felonious, anyone convicted for involuntary manslaughter or who was insane at the time of the act can still inherit from the victim.

Santa Rosa Family Law Help

Fortunately, few local residents will ever be in a situation similar to this one. However, unique legal issues related to family property, dissolution, and custody concerns do arise. No two cases are identical. That is why if you are in our area and may be in need of legal help connected to family issues, it is imperative to seek the advice of an experienced Santa Rosa family law attorney. The legal professionals at Beck Law have been working on these issues for years and can provide the advice and advocacy you need.

All information discussed during your visit to the Beck Law Offices is confidential. Please contact our office for a consultation at 707-576-7175 today.

See Related Blog Posts:

Uncovering Marital Assets in a Divorce

What to Do When Your Spouse Has a History of Domestic Violence

(photo courtesy of another_finn)

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