Taylor Swift and Estate Litigation –
an Unlikely Duet

William O. Kessler, Edmonds Lawyer

In her hit song “Anti-Hero,” Taylor Swift includes the lyric

I have this dream my daughter-in-law kills me for the money
She thinks I left them in the will
The family gathers ’round and reads it and then someone screams out
“She’s laughing up at us from hell”

Ms. Swift raises some interesting legal issues here. This post attempts to address some of them:

Washington’s slayer statute, RCW 11.84 et seq, prevents a decedent’s “slayer” from inheriting from the decedent. Having nothing to do with the successful heavy metal band, a “slayer” under the statute is “any person who participates, either as a principal or an accessory before the fact, in the willful and unlawful killing of any other person…” RCW 11.84.010(5).[1]

Ms. Swift’s fictional daughter-in-law (“DIL”) is under the impression that Ms. Swift left “them” in the will. From the context, we can assume “them” refers to both DIL and her spouse, and also possibly to other family members.

Because the family gathers for the reading of the will, this tells us Ms. Swift indeed made a will and did not die intestate. Based on the family member’s (a) screaming, (b) use of the inclusive “us,” and (c) taking pains to opine on the eternal and uncomfortably-warm location of Ms. Swift’s soul, we glean that the attendees of the reading (i) have been omitted from Ms. Swift’s estate, and (ii) are none too pleased about it.

But even if DIL had been a beneficiary under the will, she would have been excluded from taking by the slayer statute due to her presumably-wrongful killing of Ms. Swift. RCW 11.84.040. That said, in most wills, children-in-law are not takers. More likely, Ms. Swift’s fictional son (“Son”) (assuming a heterosexual marriage) would have been the taker. In that case, the slayer statute would also exclude Son if he was an “accessory before the fact” with DIL. If he was not an accessory before the fact, he would likely still take his share, and in his presumptive subsequent divorce from DIL,[2] it would be difficult to envision the scenario in which a Court would grant DIL a portion of Ms. Swift’s estate which had already been distributed to Son as his separate property.

But what if Son had helped DIL slay Ms. Swift, i.e. acted an accessory before the fact? Both DIL and Son would be excluded. Under RCW 11.84.040, that means Sons’ share “shall be distributed as if he had predeceased” Ms. Swift. If DIL and Son had children, the funds would likely pass under the will to their children / Ms. Swift’s grandchildren. If those grandchildren were still minors,[3] or if Ms. Swift’s will established a trust for grandchildren extending into the grandchildren’s adulthood, their parents would likely be the nominated or presumptive trustees. But of course, it is highly unlikely the executor of Ms. Swift’s estate would distribute to a trust controlled by her slayer(s), and the Court would need to appoint an alternate trustee.

Whether the facts are dramatic or mundane, the lawyers at Beresford Booth regularly handle estate litigation, probates and divorces. Please contact us anytime at info@beresfordlaw.com or by phone at (425) 776-4100 to discuss your case.

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[1] Though Slayer may be remiss in failing to name an album “Laughing Up at Us From Hell”

[2] After all, she did kill his mother.

[3] It is unclear at what stage of her life Ms. Swift’s dream occurs.