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When an estate may not be responsible for restitution payments

On Behalf of | Aug 2, 2022 | Trusts And Estate Planning

Life is messy, and sometimes the things a person is dealing with when they die are left for their loved ones to deal with. For example, what if the deceased was facing criminal charges when they passed away?

If a person who’s convicted of a crime is appealing that conviction when they die, their appeal is dismissed and the conviction is vacated. That’s because a case is not considered to be decided under the law if there’s any appeal still pending under the legal doctrine “abatement ab initio.”

But what happens if part of the punishment involved paying restitution to their victim(s)? Does that mean they have no chance of receiving that?

The Colorado Supreme Court weighed in last year

That’s a question that hasn’t clearly been addressed by the state legislature. However, it was decided – at least for two cases – by the Colorado Supreme Court last year.

The immediate case involved a man convicted of securities theft and fraud who was ordered to pay more than $200,000 in restitution — mostly to people who invested in his business. He died while appealing his conviction. The appeals court ruled that the restitution did not have to be paid by his estate, because of the abatement ab initio doctrine even though that meant the victims wouldn’t get their money back.

Prosecutors appealed the decision to the Colorado Supreme Court, but the high court upheld the appellate decision. The ruling noted that because the General Assembly hasn’t “clearly acted to exclude restitution orders from abatement ab initio,” their decision was the appropriate one.

The ruling doesn’t address all situations

The ruling also gave closure to a similar case from almost a decade ago. However, that’s not to say the decision would be the same in different circumstances – for example, if a defendant takes their own life while appealing their case. Of course, it also doesn’t address the responsibility of the estate if the deceased was already paying restitution for a conviction not under appeal. 

If your loved one had some involvement with the justice system – either in a civil or criminal case — when they passed away, it’s wise to notify the appropriate people and agencies of their death and determine what, if anything, is required of the estate. That’s just one more reason why having experienced legal guidance is helpful.