Obscure Law Complicates Aaron Hernandez Estate After His Death
A sad ending to a bizarre and somewhat tragic life, Aaron Hernandez took his own life early Wednesday at a Massachusetts prison.
- Former NFL star Aaron Hernandez, who was serving a life sentence for murder, committed suicide early Wednesday morning in a Massachusetts prison.
- A rarely used common law legal principle "abatement ab initio" states that if an individual dies before an appeal can be heard, the case reverts to the beginning which essentially erases any conviction.
- This principle complicates any civil trial brought by his victim's estate, but could end up benefiting his infant daughter.
Hernandez was an All-Pro tight end for the Patriots before being arrested and subsequently convicted of murdering his friend Odin Lloyd. He was recently acquitted in a separate double homicide case. Although this is a terrible situation for all four families involved in these matters, there is an interesting legal scenario that may take place.
In Massachusetts and several older states in the nation, an archaic and rarely used legal principle called "abatement ab initio" provides that if an individual dies before his appeal can be heard, the case reverts to its beginning which in essence erases the conviction. This common law rule has been abandoned throughout most of the country but will apply in this case because Hernandez was awaiting his appeal for the murder conviction. Hernandez, who was serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole, essentially died an innocent man because his conviction will likely be erased. While this is obviously a terrible situation for Lloyd's family, it does create some interesting issues for Hernandez' estate.
While he was an NFL player, Hernandez earned several million dollars including a large bonus from a contract extension he signed shortly before he was arrested. He was forced to pay back some of the bonus money and his legal expenses were probably very high with two concurrent murder trials, so it's unclear how much his estate is worth at this point.
The "abatement ab initio" will have two major effects on the value of Hernandez' estate: the cessation of legal fees because there will be no appeals process and potential avoidance of a civil suit verdict requiring a large settlement to Lloyd's estate. Under the legal principle, no evidence established in Hernandez' criminal trial can be used in a potential civil trial because it is as if the trial never occurred. This will make it more difficult for Lloyd's estate to prove that entitlement to damages for Hernandez' actions. This is a heartbreaking turn of events for Lloyd's family as they struggle to find closure for their tragic loss.
If there is one semi-positive outcome in this terrible situation, it would be that Hernandez' infant daughter is the beneficiary of his estate and she could have the chance to be protected and grow up as normal as possible.
Since we are a California based firm and this is a bizarre set of circumstances, you will not have to worry about this particular archaic legal principle. However, this is one of the many reasons we are constantly updating our comprehensive estate plans and estate planning strategies to ensure that your estate is not blindsided by obscure principles or changes in the current law.
Take action now and schedule a strategy session, and together we can minimize stress and maximize peace of mind.
Joshua Rogers is a co-founding principal of Schlau|Rogers and an estate and business planning lawyer practicing in Orange, San Diego, Los Angeles and Riverside counties. He is an avid Lakers fan, blogger, aspiring scuba diver, and takes pride in helping others reach their goals.
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