HM Insights

Can a murderer act as their victim's Executor? Consultation on law of Succession in Scotland

The Scottish Government recently launched a consultation on the Law of Succession. Among various other succession issues, the consultation seeks views on a potential change in the law to allow anyone charged and convicted of murder and other crimes to be removed from being executors for their victims' wills.

The proposed change is a direct result of the case of Carol Anne Taggart, which received much media attention and sparked public outcry. Carol Anne was strangled to death by her son, Ross, who she had recently appointed executor and sole beneficiary of her estate. Under Scots law the conviction of an individual precludes them from inheriting from their victim's estate, however, there is a legal loophole permitting them to be appointed executor of their estate.

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The consultation notes that "the function of the executor is to represent the deceased and is fiduciary in nature – an ethical relationship of trust" and such a relationship is undoubtedly tarnished following a conviction.

It is currently possible to apply to the court to have an executor removed in certain circumstances however this could delay the winding up of an estate, cause further emotional distress to the remaining family and is often not a viable option due to the costs involved.

The consultation seeks views on whether disqualification from acting should be automatic following a conviction of murder, culpable homicide or any type of crime. It also poses the question at what time should disqualification be applicable: at the point the individual is charged or at the outcome of a trial. It notes that "consideration could be given to the appointment of a judicial factor, on an interim business or otherwise, until such time as a conviction is confirmed."

Responses to the consultation must be submitted prior to 10 May 2019.