In re Covert Brief (2001)

In re Covert
Court of Appeals of New York, 2001
97 N.Y.2d 68, 761 N.E.2d 571, 735 N.Y.S.2d 879

Facts: Edward Covert killed his wife Kathleen, then killed himself. Previously Edward and Kathleen had executed a joint will which designated that when one spouse died, the surviving souse would receive all joint assets. Upon death of the surviving spouse, the will bequeathed specific property to the executrix of the estate (Kathleen’s sister) and distributed the remainder of the estate, in equal thirds, to Edward’s parents, Kathleen’s parents, and the decedent’s siblings. When the will was probated, the Covert’s demanded strict compliance with the express terms of the will. Kathleen’s parents requested that the court preclude the Coverts from taking under the will based on the Riggs precedent. The surrogate court found in the favor of Kathleen’s parents. This decision was overturned by the appellate court, which treated Richard as having fictionally predeceased Kathleen. Kathleen’s parents appealed.

Issue: Whether the doctrine of Riggs v. Palmer mandates the disinheritance of the wrongdoer’s heirs and distributees?

Holding: No.

Decision: Absent showing that the Coverts were anything other than innocent distributees, Riggs is inapplicable. The Riggs standard only prohibits Edward from profiting from his wrong doing.

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