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In re Estate of Garcia.

2022 COA 58. No. 21CA0263. Slayer Statute—Jurisdiction—Standing—Probate.

May 26, 2022

Decedent was 34 years old when she intestate died. Her husband reported that he found her face down in bed and unresponsive several hours after they had engaged in “kinky sex” during which her hands were tied to the bed. Decedent was survived by her husband (her sole heir) and two children. The children lived with husband following their mother’s death. The autopsy noted evidence supporting the conclusion that decedent had died of terminal cardiac arrhythmia resulting from an existing heart condition.

Twelve years after her death, decedent’s sister Strong obtained a second opinion on the cause of death from a pathologist. The pathologist opined that the death was caused by pulmonary edema, possibly due to “intoxication, mechanical asphyxiation, smothering, cho[]king, neck compression using ligature . . . and hyper/hypothermia.” Decedent’s father sued husband under the slayer statute seeking (1) a determination that husband feloniously caused decedent’s death, (2) a determination that the children are decedent’s sole heirs, and (3) a judgment directing husband to forfeit his rights to all assets that he had an interest in and to account for and disgorge to the children all that he had received.

The children entered the case and sought its dismissal. Strong later joined the case, and after decedent’s father was dismissed, she became the sole petitioner. Husband’s motions to dismiss based on lack of standing under the slayer statute and the statute of limitations were denied. After four years of litigation, husband made an offer of settlement to the children, which they accepted, and to Strong, who accepted conditionally in satisfaction of her monetary claim but not as to her individual claim for a determination that father had feloniously killed decedent. Ultimately, father confessed liability under the slayer statute to effectuate his settlement with the children, but he did not confess liability to Strong pending an appeal on issues of standing and statute of limitations. The trial court accepted father’s admission and entered an unconditional final judgment in favor of Strong on her felonious killing claim that reflected father’s admission of liability and a judgment against husband in the amount of $500,000 to be apportioned equally between the children. It also awarded costs to Strong under CRCP 54(d).

On appeal, father argued that the district court erred by determining that Strong and decedent’s father had standing to assert claims under the slayer statute. Only an “interested person” may bring an action under the slayer statute, whose sole purpose is to prevent the slayer from benefiting from the victim’s death or profiting from the wrongdoing. Accordingly, interested persons do not include persons who lack a property right or claim against a decedent’s estate. Decedent’s father and Strong admitted in the petition that they were not heirs, and Strong conceded that she had no financial interest in decedent’s estate and did not contend that decedent’s father had a financial interest in the estate. Further, decedent’s father and Strong lacked authority to assert a claim under the slayer statute in the name of decedent’s child Krysta, who was an adult at the time of decedent’s death, and decedent’s child A.G., whose GAL disavowed the claims. Accordingly, decedent’s father and Strong lacked standing to seek relief under the slayer statute.

Given this disposition, the Court of Appeals did not reach father’s statute of limitations argument.

The portion of the judgment determining that father feloniously killed decedent and the order awarding costs to Strong were reversed.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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