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Probate and Estate Litigation Blog

Millionaire murder leads to high stakes will contest

Nobody likes to see a criminal profit from illicit activity, even when it comes to probate proceedings. Twin Cities readers may be familiar with so-called "slayer statutes" that act to bar convicted murderers from benefiting from the estates of their victims. In one high profile case, the invocation of a slayer statute has led to a no holds barred will contest that has some potential beneficiaries contemplating an effort to paint the most likely heir as a conspirator to a murder plot.

Disputes over an estate estimated at $4.2 million might draw press attention under any circumstances, but the case of Ben Novack, heir to the glitzy Fontainebleu Hotel, has drawn extra attention due to the dime novel circumstances surrounding his death. The millionaire's wife stood first in line to inherit his family fortune under the terms of his will. That entitlement, though, looks certain to disappear under the state's slayer statute.

The wife has already been convicted of hiring hitmen to kill the millionaire in a brutal hotel room beating and will most likely be disqualified as a legitimate heir. If the slayer statute is invoked, her daughter stands to inherit a lump sum of $150,000 while the remainder of the millionaire's estate will pass in trust to two adult grandsons.

Other family members, however, have no intention of letting the fortune pass without a fight. They have a dual pronged strategy that first involves attempting to have the will invalidated under the theory that the millionaire's wife exercised undue influence to convince him to name her and her descendants as heirs in the will. The disinherited heirs allege that the millionaire's wife engaged in coercion under threat that she would expose his unusual sexual fetishes if he did not change his will.

If the coercion theory fails, the relatives say that they will try to connect the stepdaughter to the murder plot and have her eliminated as an heir pursuant to the slayer statute. A criminal jury already exonerated the stepdaughter, so the challengers may have to hang their hopes on the coercion theory.

Source: lohud.com, "Narcy Novack case: Daughter poised to inherit multimillion dollar estate," Jorge Fitz-Gibbon and Jonathan Bandler, Jan. 11, 2013

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