The Unlucky Winner – The Tale of Khan
The newspaper recently had a photograph of a grinning chap by the name of Urooj Khan. Dressed in a bright red argyle sweater, he held up his winning ticket in the Illinois state lottery. In May of 2012, he won a million dollar jackpot. In July, he died before collecting his prize.
Khan was a Chicago immigrant who operated a dry-cleaning business. His death appeared to be of natural causes. But his brother raised questions, and police became involved. New tests found lethal levels of cyanide, which led to a ruling of homicide. Khan’s body was exhumed to aid the investigation. So far, no suspect has been charged.
What happened to the jackpot? “Khan died without a will, leading to a battle in Cook County Probate Court.” The dispute settled: Khan’s widow will receive one-third of the lottery winnings; Khan’s daughter from another marriage will receive two-thirds.
The settlement also provides that neither party will file a wrongful death suit against the other absent new evidence.
I feel badly for the poor guy. On the surface, it appears that the homicide and the jackpot are related. The investigation remains open.
Using Mr. Khan’s tragedy as a teachable moment: Let’s say Mr. Khan had lived in Los Angeles, rather than Chicago. So, applying California law to this fact pattern, we can say three things about probate, intestacy, and unclean hands.
First, his estate would have been probated in Los Angeles County Superior Court. He left no will and the value of his estate exceeded $150,000 (the statutory threshold for probate). The lump-sum payout of his jackpot was $425,000. Mr. Khan also owned a business, vehicles, and other property.
Second, the proper heirs to the jackpot would depend on whether the jackpot was considered separate or community property. If Mr. Khan used community assets to buy the lottery ticket, then the jackpot would also be community property. In that case, his widow would be entitled to all of the winnings. If, on the other hand, he bought the ticket with his separate property, his daughter and his current wife would split the money equally.
Third, murderers cannot benefit from their crimes. The killer is not entitled to benefit under the victim’s will or trust. Nor may the killer take under intestacy. California Probate Code § 250. A final judgment of conviction of felonious killing is conclusive. In the absence of a criminal judgment, the probate court may determine by a preponderance of evidence whether the killing was felonious and intentional. If, say, this is a case of a black widow, she is not entitled to the jackpot. If so, the money would pass to Mr. Khan’s daughter.
Thanks for reading!
See L.A. Times, “Poisoned Illinois lottery winner’s estate is settled,” Dec. 12, 2013, http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-poisoned-lottery-winner-estate-settled-20131212,0,5643847.story