Baker v. Martin

Citation709 S.W.2d 533
Decision Date05 May 1986
Docket NumberNo. 14108,14108
PartiesVera BAKER, Jimmy Brown, Verla Mae Westmoreland and Thomas J. Holland, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Robert Scott MARTIN, Robert E. Martin, Robert Scott Martin, Jr., Shannon Earl Martin, Dale Earl Martin, Kimberly Martin, and Berkley Martin, William C. Morgan, the unknown heirs, etc., Defendants-Respondents.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)

John A. Michener, Kathi L. Chestnut, Evans & Dixon, St. Louis, for plaintiffs-appellants.

William C. Morgan, Waynesville, Darrell Deputy, Jr., Lebanon, for defendants-respondents.

MAUS, Judge.

The testatrix devised the residue of her estate equally to those of three named persons who survived her by 30 days. One of those three named persons was convicted of the capital murder of the testatrix. The trial court declared the residue passed to the other two of the three named persons. The heirs at law of the testatrix appeal.

This action of the appellant heirs at law was submitted to the trial court upon a stipulation of facts. The critical facts established by that stipulation are the following.

The testatrix was married to Earl F. Martin who predeceased her. The date of his death is not shown by the stipulation, but it was apparently after November 9, 1979, the date the testatrix executed her will. The testatrix died on May 16, 1981. Her will of November 9, 1979 was admitted to probate and is established as her will.

By that will the testatrix devised her estate to her husband, Earl F. Martin, if he survived her for 30 days. By paragraph Third she declared: "I have no living children or lineal descendants, and I declare that I have intentionally omotted [sic] from this will all persons, whether related to me by blood or marriage, who are not mentioned herein." By paragraph Fourth, if Earl F. Martin did not survive her for 30 days, testatrix provided two general devises. She devised "1,000.00 each to my husband's granddaughters, Kimberly Martin and Berkley Martin, who survives me by thirty (30) days." By paragraph Fifth, if Earl F. Martin did not survive her for 30 days, she devised "$5,000.00 unto my step-son, Dale Earl Martin, if he survives me by thirty (30) days; ...." She devised the residue of her estate by paragraph Sixth which provided:

If my husband, Earl F. Martin, does not survive me by thirty (30) days then I give, devise and bequeath all of the rest, residue and remainder of my estate, real, personal or mixed, wheresoever situated, which I may own at the time of my death or to which I may thereafter become entitled, equally unto those of the following three persons who survive me by thirty (30) days: my step-son, Robert Scott Martin, and Robert Scott Martin, Jr. (son of my said step-son, Robert Scott Martin), and Shannon Earl Martin (son of my said step-son, Robert Scott Martin).

As stated, Earl F. Martin predeceased the testatrix. Earl F. Martin's son, Robert Scott Martin and his children, Robert Scott, Jr., aged nine, and Shannon Earl, aged three, all survived the testatrix for more than 30 days. Robert Scott Martin was convicted of the capital murder of the testatrix. That conviction has been affirmed. State v. Martin, 651 S.W.2d 645 (Mo.App.1983).

The trial court reached the following conclusions of law. The devise of the residue was a devise to a class. Within the meaning of that devise, Robert Scott Martin did not survive the testatrix for 30 days. The relationship of Robert Scott Martin, Jr. and Shannon Earl Martin to the murderer Robert Scott Martin did not taint their status as devisees. As stated, the trial court declared the residue passed to Robert Scott Martin, Jr. and Shannon Earl Martin.

The appellant heirs do not concede the residue was devised to a class. The respondent devisees acknowledge the general rule is that, absent an intent to the contrary, a devise to named persons is a devise to them individually, and not as a class. See Annot., Wills--Class Gift--Named Beneficiaries, 13 A.L.R.4th 978 (1982). However, they argue that by reason of paragraph Third and the direction that the survivors of the three named persons are to take, it is established that the devise of the residue was a gift to a class. The nomenclature applied to the devise is immaterial. It is of no consequence the group to take was not subject to the admission of after-born members. See 80 Am.Jur.2d Wills § 1409 (1975). It is clear from the language of the will it was the intent of the testatrix that after her death the residue would vest in those of the three named persons who survived for 30 days. Estate of Frailey, 625 S.W.2d 241 (Mo.App.1981).

However, from an early date it has consistently been held in this state that one who intentionally and feloniously causes the death of another cannot acquire property by reason of that death. Those decisions include the following applications of that principle. An heir who murders an ancestor cannot take by intestate distribution. Perry v. Strawbridge, 209 Mo. 621, 108 S.W. 641 (1908). A surviving spouse guilty of voluntary manslaughter of her husband is barred from receiving a year's support and exempt personal property from his estate. In Re Estate of Laspy, 409 S.W.2d 725 (Mo.App.1966). A surviving spouse guilty of a successful conspiracy to murder a husband may not elect to take against his will. In Re Estate of Danforth, 705 S.W.2d 609 (Mo.App.1986). When a tenant by the entirety murders his co-tenant, the estate is converted to a tenancy in common and the felonious tenant may not take the deceased co-tenant's share. Barnett v. Couey, 224 Mo.App. 913, 27 S.W.2d 757 (1930). A beneficiary who intentionally and feloniously causes the death of an insured may not take under a policy of insurance. Wells v. Harris, 434 S.W.2d 783 (Mo.App.1968); Hopkins v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 151 S.W.2d 527 (Mo.App.1941). Further, one holding a reversion may not acquire fee simple title upon intentionally and feloniously causing the death of the holder of the conditional estate. Eisenhardt v. Siegel, 343 Mo. 22, 119 S.W.2d 810 (1938). The parties have not cited and research has not disclosed a decision in this state which specifically considers the status of a devisee who intentionally and feloniously causes the death of a testatrix. However, it is clear that under the principle established in the cases cited above, Robert Scott Martin may not take under the will of Vesta Lee Martin. Perry v. Strawbridge, supra. Also see Annot., Homicide--Preclusion from Inheritance, 25 A.L.R.4th 787 (1983).

It is an irrelevant exercise in futility to speculate concerning the testatrix's intended disposition in the event Robert Scott Martin murdered her. Obviously, she had formed no such intent. The appropriate question is what consequences will the law impose upon the terms of her will as a result of the testatrix's murder by Robert Scott Martin.

In states not prescribing those consequences by statute, in general, one of three doctrines have been adopted.

These are:

'1. The legal title does not pass to the murderer as heir or devisee.

'2. The legal title passes to the murderer, and he may retain it in spite of his crime.

'3. The legal title passes to the murderer, but equity will treat him as a constructive trustee of the title because of the unconscionable mode of its acquisition, and compel him to convey it to the heirs of the deceased, exclusive of the murderer.'

In Re Wilson's Will, 5 Wis.2d 178, 92 N.W.2d 282, 283 (1958). See Annot., 25 A.L.R.4th 787, supra, § 2(a). A variation of the latter doctrine is to declare the beneficiary of the constructive trust to be "the persons most equitably entitled thereto." In Re Wilson's Will, supra, at 285. The first doctrine is embodied in §...

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9 cases
  • Salak v. Protective Life Ins. Co.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Iowa
    • 14 Septiembre 1998
    ... ... In an earlier case from Missouri, Baker v. Martin, 709 S.W.2d 533 (Mo.App.1986), the court was faced with the murder of the testatrix by a devisee. The devisee was disqualified and the ... ...
  • Bakker v. Employee Sav. Plan of McDonnell Douglas Corp.
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    ... ... , 414 S.W.2d 343, 346 (Mo.App.K.C.1967) (husband who intentionally killed wife cannot recover proceeds from insurance policies on wife's life); Baker v. Martin, 709 S.W.2d 533, 535 (Mo.App.S.D.1986) (husband who intentionally killed wife cannot take as devisee under wife's will); Matter of ... ...
  • McCarty, Matter of, 53458
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • 8 Noviembre 1988
    ...husband. A person who feloniously and intentionally causes the death of another cannot benefit by reason of that death. Baker v. Martin, 709 S.W.2d 533, 534 (Mo.App.1986). See also, Perry v. Strawbridge, 108 S.W. 641 (Mo.1908); In the Matter of the Estate of Julius Laspy, 409 S.W.2d 725 (Mo......
  • State Farm Life Ins. Co. v. Howell, 95-1575WM
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    ... ... See Baker v. Martin, 709 S.W.2d 533, 535 (Mo.Ct.App.1986). Under Missouri law, "[a] beneficiary who intentionally and feloniously causes the death of an ... ...
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