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Lakatos v. Estate of Billotti

    Brief Fact Summary.

    After Frank Billotti murdered his wife, he used a conveyance to a strawman to create a joint tenancy with his mother in land he and his wife had jointly owned before her murder. Carolyn Billotti’s parents, Andrew and Virginia Lakatos (Plaintiffs) sued to have the land partitioned.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Property that is owned in joint tenancy will not pass by right of survivorship to a surviving cotenant who murdered the deceased tenant.

    Facts.

    Frank and Carolyn Billotti were married and owned two properties as joint tenants with right of survivorship. Frank killed Carolyn and their two daughters. Subsequently, Frank conveyed the properties to his mother, who conveyed them to a strawman. The strawman contemporaneously conveyed both properties back to Frank and his mother, Rose Billotti. Carolyn’s parents, Plaintiffs, sued to partition the properties. The trial court denied the request and Plaintiffs appealed. 

    Issue.

    Does land that is jointly owned pass through the right of survivorship when one cotenant is murdered by the other?

    Held.

    (Maynard, J.) No. Property that is owned in joint tenancy will not pass by right of survivorship to a surviving cotenant who murdered the deceased tenant. Public policy prevents allowing a murderer to benefit from his actions. Frank Billotti would have owned both properties through the right of survivorship if Carolyn Billotti had died under other circumstances. However, because he murdered Carolyn, the properties will pass as though Frank had predeceased her. The properties belong entirely to Plaintiffs. Frank and Rose Billotti take nothing. Reversed.

    Discussion.

    This decision rests on principles of equity. It would be unfair for someone to murder another and then benefit from it. Public policy does not favor granting benefits to those who violate the law


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