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The Slayer Statute
You’ll find the statute codified at Tenn. Code Ann. §31-1-106.
“Any person who kills, or conspires with another to kill, or procures to be killed, any other person from whom the first named person would inherit the property, either real or personal, or any part of the property, belonging to the deceased at the time of the deceased person’s death, or who would take the property, or any part of the property, by will, deed, or otherwise, at the death of the deceased, shall forfeit all right in the property, and the property shall go as it would have gone under §31-2-104, or by will, deed or other conveyance, as the case may be; provided, that this section shall not apply to any killing done by accident or in self-defense.”
This law originated in the 1905 Public Acts at Chapter 11, so it has a long history. It has been slightly revised during a 108-year life, but the essentials remain unchanged. A helpful historical review can be learned by reading Judge (now Justice) Koch’s opinion in Carter v. Hutchison, 707 S.W.2d 533 (Tenn. App. 1985).
Let’s examine the two most recent reported Supreme Court opinions to see how the Slayer Statute works. Chief Justice Lyle Reid wrote both.
Hicks v. Boshears, 846 S.W.2d 812 (1993), was a Chancery suit filed by the four daughters of defendant Gifford Harold Boshears and his wife. Daddy Harold Boshears slew his spouse on Mar. 26, 1971, for which he was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. See Boshears v. State, 500 S.W.2d 621 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1973). The couple owned Campbell County land in Jacksboro as tenants by the entirety. Who ultimately got the realty? Because the court held that the killing converted the tenancy by entirety to a tenancy in common, Boshears got an undivided half interest and his daughters got the other undivided half interest.
Moore v. State Farm Insurance Company, 878 S.W.2d 946 (1994), was a Chancery suit brought by the next friend of Jack Lindsey Jordan’s minor stepsons. Jack Jordan was driving his wife Lisa Viola Jordan in a car at Memphis. He lost control and a wreck occurred. Mrs. Jordan died from her injuries. Survivor Mr. Jordan pleaded guilty to the crime of vehicular homicide. Was he entitled to proceeds of State Farm policies on his wife’s life? Yes. Reread the proviso at the end of the Slayer Statute. The court held that forfeiture applies only when there is an intentional killing, not when there is an “accidental” killing.
Finally, sometimes the slayer is slain. Beddingfield v. Estill & Newman, 118 Tenn. 39, 100 S.W. 108 (1906), involved the murder of Mary Roper Baird by her husband Charles William Baird on Dec. 1, 1905, near Fayetteville in Lincoln County. According to Lewis Laska’s encyclopedic Legal Executions in Tennessee, slayer Baird was hanged on May 24, 1907.
DONALD F. PAINE is a past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and is of counsel to the Knoxville firm of Paine, Tarwater, and Bickers LLP. He lectures for the Tennessee Law Institute.