Beneficiary Accused of Causing Death Can Inherit

Elder Law Answers Case Summary.The Mississippi appellate court affirms the chancery court’s decision to close probate despite claims that a beneficiary caused the death of the decedent. In the Matter of the Estate of Avery (Miss. Ct. App., No. 2022-CP-00163-COA, February 21, 2022).

Allen Wayne Avery accused his sister, Janice Marie Avery Carson, of causing the death of their father, Eric Lane Avery, and attempting to prevent her inheritance. He also asserted that COVID-19 contributed to his father’s death, as he sought federal funds to reimburse the estate for funeral expenses.

Mr. Eric Avery had lung cancer. According to the death certificate, cancer ended his life.

Mr. Allen Avery initially petitioned the chancery court to probate his father’s estate. The court made him executor, but his attorneys withdrew from the case. Releasing Mr. Allen Avery’s attorneys, the court put the Lamar County Probate Administrator, Mark E. Norton, in charge of closing the estate.

Representing himself, Mr. Allen Avery asked the court to freeze the estate until his father’s death certificate changed to reflect COVID-19 as a cause of death, as well as until the judicial process resolved the question of his sister’s involvement with the death. The chancery court held his petition in abeyance.

Then Mr. Allen Avery attempted to remove Mr. Norton or require him to amend his father’s death certificate. Finding Mr. Allen Avery failed to show good cause for removal, the court denied his petition and closed the estate. Mr. Allen Avery appealed.

On appeal, the court considers whether the lower court erred in closing the estate before the death certificate changed to show COVID-19 as a cause and before the judicial process resolved whether Ms. Carson was at fault.

The chancery court was correct to close the estate before Mr. Allen Avery amended the death certificate. The decedent had COVID-19 a year before he died, and no medical evidence supported the claim that COVID-19 led to the death. Mr. Norton reported that the expense of modifying the death certificate would not benefit the estate. While Mr. Allen Avery failed to follow the statutory procedure to change the death certificate, the chancellor’s order allowed him to recover benefits if he modified the death certificate using the correct method.

When the chancery court ended probate and allowed Mrs. Carson to inherit, it did not err. In this case, the Mississippi Slayer Statutes’ prohibition against the deceased’s killer inheriting does not apply. For these rules to stop a person from benefiting from the estate, the conduct contributing to the death must go beyond negligence. The law requires willfulness, which is synonymous with knowing and intentional conflict.

No evidence suggests that Ms. Carson was negligent. Her brother claimed that her failure to provide their father with a medical device caused his death. However, she testified that her father had elected not to use the device.

The chancery court’s decision to close probate is appropriate. The evidence suggests that Mr. Eric Avery did not die from COVID-19, and even if he did, the order allowed Mr. Allen Avery to follow the procedure to receive federal reimbursement to the estate. Failing to trigger the Slayer Statutes, Mr. Allen Avery did not show that his sister willfully caused their father’s death.

Read the full opinion here.