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Beit Midrash Family and Society Basics of Financial Laws

The Will of a Person who Committed Suicide

The bride wants a decree of inheritance that gives her the money assigned by her groom in his will. The relatives of the deceased, who are the halachic inheritors, say that the will is not halachically binding as no kinyan (act of acquisition) was done in reference to it.
Rabbi Yoav SternbergWednesday, 12 Cheshvan 5768
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Case: A man wrote the following in a will: "After my death, I command that, from my property, the following shall be given: ... 300 liras shall go to my bride, Ms. X" (the plaintiff). After other similar instructions, the man signed his name under the declaration, "Signed with full cognizance." Two days later, on the day of the couple’s planned wedding, the groom committed suicide, prior to the wedding, after having left a note to his bride that said: "I left for you 300 liras, which should serve as a sign to others that only you thought good of me." The bride wants a decree of inheritance that gives her the money assigned by her groom in his will. The relatives of the deceased, who are the halachic inheritors, say that the will is not halachically binding as no kinyan (act of acquisition) was done in reference to it.
Ruling: It is true that there is a rule that the will of one who is in danger of dying (schiv merah) is valid without a kinyan. However, that concept does not apply to the will that the deceased groom wrote a couple of days before his death. The logic is as follows. The rule that the will of a schiv merah is valid without a kinyan is based on a situation that the schiv merah is under pressure as he does not know when he will die, and thus we validate his desires so as not to upset him and thereby possibly cause his situation to deteriorate. However, this does not apply to the case at hand because the will was written two days before his willful suicide. At the point that the groom wrote the will, he was healthy and could have backed out of his unfortunate plans at any time. Rather, his instructions are halachically cateorized as the gift of a healthy person, which requires a kinyan to be valid according to the Torah.
On the other hand, we should consider the letter that he left close to his suicide as a will of a schiv merah. This is because it is clear from the context that the preparations for the suicide were complete. In that case, we can apply the following ruling of the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 250:8). "One who goes out to sea, one who goes with a caravan, one who is about to be executed, or one who has a life-threatening illness: all of them are like one who issues commands due to his dying, and his words are like written and delivered words, which are fulfilled if he dies." Since in that letter, he expressed his clear desire that his bride should receive the 300 liras in question, his will should be followed like that of a schiv merah.


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