Timing Is Everything in the Benoit Inheritance Case

A macabre legal battle is brewing surrounding pro wrestler Chris Benoit, who authorities say killed his wife and son, then took his own life this past June. Who Benoit killed first — his wife or his son — will determine who stands to inherit the pro-wrestler's estate, likely to be worth millions.

Fayetteville, Ga., authorities say that Benoit killed his wife sometime on the night of June 22 and then waited until the following morning to kill his son, Daniel.

But the family of Benoit's deceased wife, Nancy, is questioning these findings.

"Like everyone else, I've seen preliminary findings and opinions," said Richard Decker, the Atlanta lawyer representing Nancy's parents, Paul and Maureen Toffoloni. "We're not so sure that what we're hearing is exactly correct."

If Nancy's family can prove that she was the last person to be killed by Benoit, her family will have legal rights to the estate, said Cary Ichter, the lawyer representing Benoit's father, Michael. Otherwise, the wrestler's estate belongs to Benoit's two children from a previous marriage.

While the lawyers from either side couldn't be specific as to what, exactly, the heirs will inherit, Ichter confirmed that several pieces of real estate, cash and investments are part of Benoit's estate.

The Slayer Statute Complicates Inheritance

Evidence shows that Benoit was the last to die in the family's Fayetteville home, which would ordinarily mean that his children, who are next of kin, would automatically be the legal heirs.

But a state law known as the slayer statute says that Benoit is legally considered the first person to die, making the timing of the deaths of Nancy and Daniel crucial in determining who becomes the legal heirs.

"The slayer statue is kind of a traditional legal principle that says if you caused someone's death you shouldn't prosper from it," said John Spears of the law firm Spears & Spears law, which deals primarily with state fiduciary litigation.

As a result, whoever of Benoit's relatives was the last to die inherits the estate, experts told ABC News.

"What happens here is that it depends on the order of death," said Spears. "And if the order in which the two of them died is established, then Georgia law is going to be really clear about who inherits."

Validity of Autopsies Up for Debate

While the county's preliminary autopsy says Nancy was killed before Daniel, Nancy's lawyer is skeptical.

"We watched what the DA has said publicly, and that they think Chris killed Nancy and then killed Daniel but we've come to learn that there are some facts that might indicate that that's not exactly the way it happened," said Decker.

Both Benoit's father's lawyer and the district attorney remain confident that the autopsy accurately recorded the sequence of events.

"My position is that this is what the medical examinations said and what the people who saw the crime scene said and the bodies are now gone," said Ichter, Benoit's father's representative. "I know of no basis on which it could be contested."

The autopsies have been completed and the results have been communicated orally to the county sheriff's office, but the final written report could take another few weeks, according to a spokesperson from the Georgia Bureau of Investigations.

"I have no reason right now to think there is any error in those conclusions of the medical examiner," said Fayetteville District Attorney Scott Ballard.

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