A verdict of guilty but mentally ill for first-degree murder bars a killer from inheriting from the decedent’s estate, the Pennsylvania Superior Court held in In re Estate of McAndrew, __ A.3d __ (No. 830 EDA 2015, filed Jan. 5, 2016). In 2011, Joseph McAndrew murdered his father, twin brother and mother. Following a bench trial, he was found guilty but mentally ill on three counts of first-degree murder. McAndrew’s mother died intestate, leaving her father and McAndrew as the only heirs to her estate. In adjudicating the estate, the orphans’ court held that McAndrew was barred under the Slayer Act, 20 Pa. C.S. §§8801-8815, from inheriting his mother’s estate because the killing was willful. McAndrew appealed.
On review, the Superior Court affirmed, holding that under the Slayer Act a verdict of guilty but mentally ill prohibits a slayer from inheriting the victim’s estate. Judge Jenkins, writing for the unanimous panel, emphasized that the goal of the Slayer Act is to prevent any person from profiting by his own wrong; to accomplish that goal a slayer is deemed to have predeceased the decedent. The Court rejected McAndrew’s invitation to treat a verdict of “guilty but mentally ill” the same as a verdict of “not guilty by reason of insanity,” which would allow him to inherit from his mother’s estate. The Court observed that a “guilty but mentally ill” verdict is reserved for defendants who plead but are unable to prove insanity, and who can establish mental illness beyond a reasonable doubt. Its intended effect was not to excuse criminal conduct, as is the case with a verdict of guilty by reason of insanity. The fact remains, as illustrated in this case, that a conviction of first-degree murder means the defendant acted willfully and deliberately. Thus, the Court concluded, “