The Victorian Law Reform Commission’s review of the ‘forfeiture rule’ was tabled in Parliament on 14 October 2014. The forfeiture rule prevents a person who is responsible for the death of another from inheriting from the deceased person.
The Commission has concluded that the rule should continue to apply in all cases of murder and most other cases. However, some reform is necessary because in a small number of cases the rule does not operate fairly. These are cases which involve significantly reduced moral culpability.
Concerns have been raised about the harshness of the rule in some situations, such as when the death is a tragic accident but a relative was at fault. There is some uncertainty about the circumstances in which the rule applies, and what happens to the inheritance when it is forfeited.
In its report, the Commission recommends that the forfeiture rule should continue to apply to murder and other homicide cases, except:
- Infanticide—an offence of reduced responsibility, generally due to psychiatric difficulties
- Where the deceased person and the person responsible for their death had entered into a suicide pact
- Dangerous driving, for example, a person who loses their partner in a car accident when they were at the wheel. (However, the rule should continue to apply to the more serious offence of culpable driving).
The Commission recommends introducing a Forfeiture Act to clarify when the rule applies and how it affects the distribution of the deceased person’s estate. The Supreme Court would be able to modify the effect of the rule in individual cases, except murder.
The Commission believes that the proposed reforms would make the law fairer and the operation of the rule clearer for executors and administrators of deceased estates.
A new Act would also make Victorian laws similar to laws in New South Wales and the ACT.
The report is available on the Victorian Law Reform Commission website www.lawreform.vic.gov.a
For more information or an interview with the Hon. Philip Cummins AM please contact:
Nick Gadd, Communications Manager, Tel: 03 8608 7824 Mob: 0425 862 119.