This is a summary proceeding to determine the curtesy rights and the rights of defendant Richard H. Kalfus under the New Jersey statute of descent and distribution. A brief factual resume is necessary to an understanding of the present controversy.
On November 20, 1962 Domenica Kalfus was murdered by her defendant husband. Domenica died intestate. Following a plea defendant was sentenced to the New Jersey State Prison, where he is presently confined, for a term of 15 to 20 years.
Domenica died seized of an estate comprising personal property and the equity in the family home in Cliffside Park which she owned in fee simple. The equity in the house was approximately $25,500 and the personal estate about $6,800. She was survived by her husband and two infant children, Michele, age seven, and Jane, age three. Bernard Natalino, a brother of the deceased intestate, was appointed guardian of the infants and administrator of the estate. This court ordered the real property sold as being in the best interests of the infants, and the proceeds of the sale were deposited into court pending a determination of the following two questions:
(1) Does a husband who murders his wife have a right to share in her personal estate where the wife dies intestate?
(2) Is a husband who murders his wife entitled to his curtesy interest in real property owned by the wife?
Neither of these precise questions has been decided in this State. Plaintiff contends that both questions should be decided in the negative. Defendant contends that in the absence of a statute, this court has no right to declare a forfeiture of defendant's vested rights.
Under our statute of descent and distribution, an intestate's husband is entitled to one-third of the intestate's personal property if a child or children also survive the deceased parent. N.J.S. 3A:4-2. A widower's curtesy right is provided for in N.J.S. 3A:35-2.
The analogous situations which have arisen in this State are the felonious homicide of (1) a testator by a devisee, (2) a tenant by the entirety by his spouse, and (3) an insured by the beneficiary under the policy. In all three situations our courts have held the wrongdoer to be divested of any rights he or she might have had if the natural course of events had been allowed to follow.
In the insurance cases the courts have impressed a constructive trust on the proceeds of the policy by invoking the age-old maxim of the common law that "no man can profit by his own wrongdoing." See Merrity v. Prudential Insurance Co. , 110 N.J.L. 414 (E. & A. 1933); Swavely v. Prudential Insurance Co. , 157 A. 394, 10 N.J. Misc. 1 (Sup. Ct. 1931); Turner v. Prudential Insur. Co. of America , 60 N.J. Super. 175 (Chan. Div. 1960).
The property cases are intertwined with N.J.S. 2A:152-2, which provides in pertinent part:
"No conviction or judgment for any offense against this state, shall make or work corruption of blood, disinherison of heirs, loss ...