Taylor Swift pushed off the balcony

“She didn’t fall off that balcony; she was pushed!” Probate Slayer Statute Lessons from Taylor Swift’s Anti-Hero

By Scott E. Rahn and Meagan A. Paisley

In our last article, Scott E. Rahn and I discussed Taylor Swift’s Last Will and Testament in her music movie, Anti-Hero and what challenges are likely to arise from such a will. Here we revisit elements of her music video we left unexplored.

Picking up where we left off, if Swift’s children, Preston and Chad, are able to successfully challenge the Will, leaving her estate to her cats, the distribution would return to either an older version of the estate plan, or the estate would be distributed by intestate succession. There was one element we did not really discuss and that’s the allegation that Kimber Swift, Preston’s wife, killed Taylor by pushing her off her balcony.

During the music video, the accusation of the murder plays out with Kimber crying over Taylor’s coffin, when Chad says “I’m just going to say it, I think she killed her.” He goes on to say “Kimber was the last person to see her. She didn’t fall off that balcony; she was pushed!” In the song “Anti-Hero,” Taylor sings “I had this dream my daughter-in-law kills me for the money,” confirming that for the purposes of this article that Kimber actually did kill Taylor.

So, when there’s an accusation that a family member who stands to gain from the passing of a loved one kills that loved one, what happens?

What would happen to Kimber?

Well, first and foremost, assuming there be sufficient evidence to show that Kimber killed Taylor, Kimber may be arrested, and criminally charged. However, this is a matter for the district attorney, not an action that a civil, probate attorney can take on. At the time of Taylor’s passing, due to the nature of the passing- a fall from her balcony- the police would be called, and they would do an investigation to determine whether the death was accidental or intentional. Depending on the outcome of that investigation, the District Attorney’s office could choose to criminally charge Kimber, and if convicted resulting in Kimber going to prison. The decision to criminally charge Kimber lies solely with the District Attorney’s Office, and cannot be brought by a family member or their lawyer.

Civilly speaking as probate lawyers, however, under California Probate Code § 250, if a person intentionally and feloniously kills another, the killer is precluded from inheriting the estate.  If Kimber was set to inherit through a will, and Chad (or Preston) would like to have Kimber’s inheritance taken away, they would have to file a petition alleging that Kimber killed Taylor and submit evidence to prove it. If proven true, Kimber would lose her inheritance. Additionally, wrongful death claims could be brought by Taylor’s estate against Kimber that would result in her having to pay damages to the estate to be split among the estate.

If there was no will or trust and the assets were passing via intestate succession, Kimber, not being the child of Taylor, would not be entitled to inherit anything. However, that’s not to say she would just “get away with it.” While she would not lose out on any inheritance because she’s not an heir and may escape criminal prosecution, a wrongful death claim could still be brought by the estate against Kimber. Think O.J.

If there is an estate plan leaving Kimber any assets, what would Chad or Preston need to do to have Kimber lose her inheritance?

To preclude Kimber from inheriting, Preston and/or Chad would have to file a petition with the court for an order that Kimber may not inherit because she intentionally and feloniously killed Taylor and should be disinherited under the terms of California Probate Code § 250. To pursue their claim, Preston and/or Chad would hire a probate litigation lawyer to present to the court proof that Kimber had killed Taylor.

If Kimber had been criminally charged, and a final judgement convicting her of felonious and intentional killing had been entered against her, per California Probate Code § 254, that judgement would conclusively prove the felonious and intentional killing and serve to disinherit Kimber.

However, if Kimber was never criminally convicted, according to California Probate Code § 254, instead, the probate court may still determine by a preponderance of the evidence whether the killing was felonious and intentional. The preponderance of the evidence standard requires that the finder of fact (in this case, the judge) find that there is a greater than 50% chance Kimber killed Taylor.  The party making the accusation would have the burden to prove their claim.

When meeting with their probate litigation attorney, Chad and/or Preston would present the information they had to show Kimber killed Taylor. If the lawyer agrees that there’s enough information to move forward, the lawyer would help Preston and/or Chad bring a petition in probate court against Kimber. The lawyer would guide Preston and/or Chad through the litigation process, gathering more information and evidence against Kimber, and advising Chad and/or Preston on the strengths, weaknesses and potential outcomes.  

Prior to trial, the parties likely would try to settle the case, but if they could not and the case proceeds to trial, the lawyer would help guide Preston and/or Chad through the process of trial and present the evidence to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Kimber killed Taylor.

What would happen to Kimber’s share of the estate?

If Kimber is found either through conclusive evidence of a criminal conviction or through proving by a preponderance of the evidence in the probate court that she killed the decedent, according to California Probate Code § 250, Kimber would be treated as if she had passed away prior to Taylor and receive nothing.

Could Preston lose his share because his wife killed Taylor?

If Preston was involved with the murder, then Preston could be disinherited by the same statute removing Kimber. However, if Kimber killed Taylor without Preston’s knowledge, Preston may still be entitled to his portion of the estate. However, Preston, as Kimber’s spouse, could be held civilly liable for Kimber’s debts up to the amount of her separate property and community property for any damages beyond her lost inheritance that the court may award. So, he may still run into some trouble if Chad decides to pursue a wrongful death claim against Kimber.

In the real world, sadly, tales like this one, where some is killed by someone who stands to inherit from their estate are as old as man. Fortunately, now, however, a wrongdoer can be held liable for their bad acts, whether criminally or via many states’ slayer statutes, civilly through the probate court. Just like in Taylor Swift’s Anti-Hero, sometimes a decedent has been killed by someone who stands to inherit their estate. With the help of a good lawyer, the killer can be held accountable, and not be rewarded for their actions.

RMO LLP provides personal and efficient inheritance dispute services to individual and institutional clients. The firm’s attorneys focus on probate litigation involving contested trust, estate, probate, and conservatorship matters. Serving California and Texas, with offices in Los Angeles, Pasadena, Orange County, San Diego, Fresno, the Bay Area, Dallas, and Houston. For more information, please visit https://rmolawyers.com/.

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About the Author

Scott Rahn, Founding Partner

Scott Rahn resolves contests, disputes and litigation related to trusts, estates and conservatorships, creating a welcome peace of mind for clients. He represents heirs, beneficiaries, trustees and executors. He utilizes his experience to develop and implement strategies that swiftly and efficiently address the financial issues, fiduciary duties and emotional complexities underlying trust contests, estates conflicts and probate litigation.

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