Trusts & Estates

Classic Exam Question in Benoit Case: Who Died When?

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Most lawyers probably remember a case or two from law school that dealt with the issue of short-term survivors. Estate attorneys often address it by drafting wills that require a brief period of survivorship (perhaps as little as 48 hours or as much as a month) before a beneficiary can inherit, to prevent costly litigation contests over close questions of who died when in multiple-fatality accidents, for instance.

But now the general public is going to get some education on the issue, too. Pro wrestler Chris Benoit and his wife both died without wills, when he murdered her and their son before killing himself one weekend in late June. So whether he killed his wife first or his son first may now determine whether their estimated seven-figure estate goes to her mother or his children from a previous marriage, reports the Associated Press.

Benoit’s mother-in-law, Maureen Toffoloni, petitioned a Fayette County, Ga., court last week to determine the order of the deaths. A local district attorney has said that Benoit first strangled his wife and then murdered his son by using a choke hold. However, Richard Decker, Toffoloni’s lawyer, says the order of the deaths isn’t clear, so he’s asking the court to make a determination based on the law, “not what we hear on TV.”

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