Gordon R. McKenzie



A couple of recent cases where a husband is charged with murdering his wife raise a quandary of legal, moral and humanist issues. Surprisingly, being convicted of murdering a spouse has implications in real estate law.

Assuming the unhappy couple owned their house as joint tenants , what happens to the property if one spouse is convicted of murdering the other? As joint tenants, since one spouse died, the murdering spouse should own the entire property. Is this fair?

Ontario courts are clear. A joint tenants "right of survivorship" is a rule of law and does apply where one joint tenant murders his or her co-tenant.

Ontario courts also uphold the principle that a person may not gain from their own wrongful act. For example, you cannot collect on a life insurance policy if you have murdered the policy holder. Would this principle prevent ownership of the property from automatically transferring to the spouse convicted of murder?

No, but the courts have not allowed murderers to gain from their wrongful acts. To reconcile the conflict between the two principles, the courts impose a trust on the interest transferred by the right of survivorship.

The convicted spouse would hold one half of the property in trust for the estate of murdered spouse and the other half of the property on his or her own account (criminals do no forfeit their property rights).

In this way, the courts have been able to uphold the right of survivorship without allowing a murderer to benefit from the crime.

This article is presented as general information only and is not to be relied on as legal advice. You should contact your lawyer to see how the law applies to your circumstances before any action is taken.

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