Follow TV Tropes

Following

Inheritance Murder

Go To

Professor Farnsworth: That's why I've made you my sole heir. The day I die, you'll be a very wealthy woman. Oh my, yes. Incredibly wealthy. The day I die. Because you're so unimpulsive.
Leela: [kicks him into a pit of deadly animals]

Sometimes, the prospect of legally inheriting something can prompt the heir to speed up the process by way of murder.

Often, the heirs are just impatient for wealth or power - they want it now, not eventually, and see no reason to wait. Other times, they're worried that an inheritance which they're currently in line for will be changed to leave them nothing - if they don't inherit quickly, it might be too late.

Advertisement:

Typically, inheriting will require a will, so tropes relating to that are often in play. A variant is for the murderer to be not the beneficiary of inheritance but the person who'd administer it, which may let them get their hands on it just as well. Another variant, especially in more modern works, is for the murderer to be after not an inheritance but an insurance payout, a different way to benefit from offing your nearest and dearest.

Most jurisdictions have laws that prevent a murderer from inheriting anything from the victim's estate, so not getting caught is essential to making it work. As such, the trope has often been the basis of murder mysteries, especially historically, although it's now becoming something of a Discredited Trope; it's rare to find a murder mystery where the inheritor actually turns out to be the murderer, although it's very common nowadays to find it at least Subverted with the inheritor being a prime suspect who turns out to be innocent.

Advertisement:

Tontines are famous for causing this to happen, to the point where they seldom show up in fiction otherwise. Sometimes comes in a combo with Forging the Will, with the murderer both fabricating a claim to inherit and triggering the inheritance. A Black Widow may be a specialized user of this trope, combining it with being a Gold Digger (although that doesn't necessarily involve inheritance so much as becoming joint owner of everything before the murder).

A subtrope of Murder in the Family. Compare The Evil Prince, if the inheritance the person is after is their father's throne.

Since this is a Death Trope, there will be unmarked spoilers.


Advertisement:

Examples

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga 
  • Jojo's Bizarre Adventure
    • In Phantom Blood, Dio Brando, who was adopted into the Joestar family, attempted to slowly poison and murder his adoptive father, George Joestar, in order to steal his inheritance away from Jonathan. Fortunately for the Joestar family, Dio was found out, although not before he transcended humanity and swore himself to be Jojo's greatest enemy.
    • The alternate universe counterpart of Dio from Steel Ball Run, Diego Brando, did something rather similar - marrying an old rich woman and then (presumably) offing her in order to secure her fortune. Unlike Dio, Diego apparently got away with this with no real negative impact on his career.

     Comic Books 
  • The Lucky Luke comic The Inheritance of Rantanplan has the guard dog Rantanplan inherit a fortune from a former convict, who also decided to make Joe Dalton next in line. The Dalton brothers promptly escape and Luke spends most of the book protecting Rantanplan from murder attempts, until the former convict is found still alive.
  • In Violine, Muller and Marushka have Francois' parents murdered by the doctor to get the house from Francois. This puts Francois and his daughter Violine as the last persons standing in their way.
  • Wonder Woman: A story in Issue #43 features a villain planning to kill his relatives for their family's fortune.

     Film 

     Literature 
  • Turns up a lot in the works of Agatha Christie.
    • In "The Cornish Mystery", the villain's plot is to poison a woman and frame her husband for it, eliminating them both and letting their niece (his fiancée) inherit from them.
    • In "The Lemesurier Inheritance", there's an alleged Hereditary Curse which gradually eliminates heirs to the Lemesurier estate until Poirot finds out that it's actually the new heir who has been doing it. (The heir has now found that Murder Makes You Crazy and is trying to off his own heir as the curse demands.)
    • In "How Does Your Garden Grow?", this is suspected twice after an elderly woman dies of poisoning. The first suspects are her relatives (who are presumed to be heirs), but suspicion then shifts to her young nurse-companion (who actually is the heir). It turns out that the relatives are guilty, not because they expected to inherit but because if the nurse did, she would learn (and reveal) that the relatives had already helped themselves to a lot of the money while the victim was alive.
    • In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, suspicion quickly falls on Ralph Paton, Ackroyd's stepson, partly due to the fact that he'd inherit the bulk of the money and was in debt. It's also mentioned that almost everyone else in the story stood to inherit a bequest of some size from the Ackroyd estate, and some of them could have used the money as well.
    • In Peril at End House, it gets complicated. A woman tells Poirot that she was secretly engaged to a rich guy who just died, and it seems that one of her own heirs is trying to kill her to get the money he left her. Later, when she's pretending to be dead, someone who wasn't a prime suspect Forges the Will, drawing suspicion on themselves... but actually, opportunistic forgery is all they're guilty of. Then it turns out that the alleged victim was faking the whole thing as cover for murdering and impersonating her same-named cousin, who is the real heir of the dead guy's money, not her. In other words, someone is pretending to be subject to this trope in order to carry it out themselves.
    • In Dumb Witness, a woman changes her will after thinking that she's the target of this, leaving everything to a non-relative. She's right, and the person who did it makes a successful second attempt, not knowing that the changed will makes it pointless.
    • In "Dead Man's Mirror", it's done on behalf of someone else without the beneficiary knowing. The murder victim was threatening to change his will unless his heir married a certain person, but she had secretly married someone else already. Her mother committed the murder so that the inheritance would go through before a showdown could occur.
    • In Sad Cypress, the obvious suspect for murdering a wealthy old woman is her niece, who is worried that she's about to get cut out of the will in favor of someone else (who is also a romantic rival... and who ends up dead too). It turns out that both murders were part of a two-stage version of this trope, having been committed by someone who secretly stood to inherit the first victim's money by way of the second victim.
    • In "Wireless", an old woman asks her nephew for help with installing a radio. He's happy to help, setting it up himself, but later she's visited by ghostly voices. Thinking they're of her dead husband, she believes she's going to die soon and writes up a new will where she leaves everything to the nephew (cutting out another relative, who it's implied didn't really do anything to deserve it other than being a modern-moraled woman). She sits in front of the fireplace with the will in hand, hears the voices, and on seeing the specter of her husband in front of her, dies of shock (and lets go of the will, which ends up in the fireplace). The specter then removes its disguise to reveal the nephew, who also removes the equipment he'd used to fake the ghost voices. However, karma bites him as it turns out she hadn't validated the new will (the nephew suddenly remembers a sheet of paper drifting into the fireplace...), so the other girl still gets everything, and just to twist the knife, the doctor says she wouldn't have lasted much longer anyway.
    • A convoluted take on it in A Murder Is Announced: the murderer has no intention of killing the person whose death would bring her the inheritance immediately, but is entirely prepared - if reluctantly - to kill people endangering the secret that the real legatee died of natural causes long ago and she's been impersonating her ever since.
  • The Discworld book Making Money has shares which would control a bank being left to a dog, and there is, therefore, a legitimate concern that the people who would otherwise have gotten them will try to move the shares on by killing the dog.
  • Occurs a lot in A Song of Ice and Fire.
    • Done by proxy in the fourth book. Bronn marries Lollys Stokeworth, second in line inherit her mother's lands, incomes, and titles. When Lady Stokeworth dies, Bronn kills Lollys' brother-in-law and banishes her older sister Falysenote , making Lollys the new Lady Stokeworth. Though Bronn doesn't directly inherit anything, as Lollys' husband he controls her wealth.
    • It's obvious to everyone in the Iron Islands that Euron Greyjoy had a role to play in his older brother Balon's death. He's been in exile for two years and just happens to come home the day after Balon's body washes up on shore? The youngest Greyjoy brother Aeron tries to subvert this trope by calling a Kingsmoot, allowing the ironborn to choose their next king, but Euron double-subverts it by winning and become the new king anyway.note 
    • King Aerys the Mad suspected that his son and heir Prince Rhaegar had been plotting to kill him for power. There are hints that Rhaegar may have indeed wanted to remove his father from power, but nothing's certain.
    • Its commonly believed that Viserys II poisoned his nephew Baelor to acquire the Iron Throne, and was in turn poisoned by his own son Aegon IV for the very same reason only a year later. However, many people think Baelor died due to his excessive fasting... though it does seem in character for the notoriously selfish and cruel Aegon to have killed his father.
    • Gerold Lannister was accused of murdering his brother Tybolt and niece Cerelle in order to gain the lordship of Casterly Rock. It's uncertain if he actually did, however.
    • Hagon Hoare sold out his older brother Harmund, along with their mother, to his detractors in order to become King of the Iron Islands.
  • In The Count of Monte Cristo, Valentine's maternal grandfather dies on the way to Paris, soon followed by her grandmother, making Valentine the heir (her mother died young and her father remarried). Then it turns out someone's been trying to poison her paternal grandfather, though fortunately, his Acquired Poison Immunity saves him. Due to the motives, the family doctor starts suspecting Valentine herself until she too is poisoned. It turns out it was her stepmother who wanted her own son to inherit both family's fortunes.
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles. Holmes and Watson are both in the dark as to why Stapleton would want to murder Sir Henry and allow him to court his sister but not propose. Then Holmes sees a series of family portraits and it clicks: Stapleton is the descendant of the Black Sheep of the Baskerville family, who'd already murdered the previous tenant of Baskerville Hall and plans to inherit the property, possibly via a third person posing as the heir (and had his wife act as his sister to further ensnare Sir Henry).
  • In the Sherlock Holmes story The Doctor's Case (non-canon as it was written by Stephen King, not ACD), the victim is murdered by his family shortly after he'd announced that he was disinheriting all of them out of spite, after which they destroy the new will. Holmes and Lestrade ultimately decide to conceal the evidence and let them claim the estate on the grounds that he was an Asshole Victim.
  • In Warrior Cats, Clan law dictates that the Clan deputy becomes their Clan's leader if the leader dies. In the first series, Tigerclaw attempted to murder his leader, Bluestar; he, as ThunderClan's deputy, would have inherited her position if he had succeeded.
  • In the fifth Twelve Houses book, the Big Bad is a minor noblewoman who missed out on a chance to become a mid-level noblewoman. So instead she comes up with a plot to marry her daughter to another minor nobleman, and kill the most important noble in their part of the country. Since that noble had no close relatives, her titles would, after the authorities spent some time looking up the genealogies, go to a distant cousin - the minor nobleman the Big Bad planned on marrying her daughter to.
  • This turns up in the works of Dorothy L. Sayers as well.
    • In Unnatural Death, when Agatha Dawson dies, Lord Peter immediately suspects her great-niece and heir, Mary Whittaker. It turns out that the Succession Act of 1925 means that Agatha Dawson's great-niece is no longer her heir by default, and she refused to make a proper will while she was alive; thus, Mary had a very good reason to want Agatha dead before the Act took effect.
    • In The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, elderly Lady Dormer left most of her money to her brother General Fentiman—or, if he was dead at the time of her death, to her companion Ann Dorland, and not to her brother's grandsons and heirs. Thus, those grandsons, Ann Dorland, and Ann Dorland's fiance, all have strong reasons to care which of the two of them dies first.
    • In Strong Poison, Harriet Vane is accused—and tried—for murdering her ex-lover Philip Boyes with arsenic. It turns out that his aunt Cremorna Garden had made a will leaving him a great deal of money. Norman Urquhart had "borrowed" her money without permission and then lost most of it, so he murdered Philip so that nobody would notice the missing fortune.
    • In Have His Carcase, Paul Alexis was murdered by his fiancee's son, who didn't want his mother leaving her money to a stepfather instead of to him.
    • In Busman's Honeymoon, William Noakes was murdered by his niece's suitor, Frank Crutchley, who meant to marry her for her inheritance.

     Live Action TV 
  • Diagnosis: Murder has a millionaire who decides to leave his fortune to a hospital, but who dies before he can change his will. Naturally, suspicion falls on his three awful children.
  • Subverted and played with for an episode Gilligan's Island. Mr. Howell changes his will to include his fellow castaways. Then a group of circumstances makes him think they're trying to kill him. However (predictably), that's wrong; they were collaborating on a surprise party for him.
  • Saturday Night Live: In "The Californians" sketch in the 40th Anniversary special, cousin Alison (Taylor Swift) sabotaged Great Aunt Lana's (Bety White) hot air balloon in order to inherit Lana's fortune, since she is the only one in Lana's will. But Lana turns up alive.
  • On My Name Is Earl Earl wins the lottery shortly after his wife Joy divorced him. Joy is upset that she will not get a share of the money but remembers that Earl once made a video where he stated that should he die, Joy should get all his property. Based on this, Joy attempts to kill Earl. She fails multiple times and when Earl realizes what is going on, he informs her that he has already had a new will drawn up and she will get nothing if he dies.
  • On Battle Creek the detectives are investigating a woman's murder when they discover that she has been spending a lot of time with an older wealthy man who died a few days before her. They suspect that the deaths are related and that the man's children might have killed him for his money. However, this theory is subverted when it is revealed that the man died of natural causes. The dead woman was the man's illegitimate daughter and was killed by her half-siblings so they would not have to share their inheritance with her. After they are arrested, the dead woman's son inherits everything.
  • Midsomer Murders had a rich Jerkass tell two or three people they'd be the sole inheritors of his fortune (without informing the others), just so that they'd show up to the reading and discover they got nothing. Since he's episode's first victim, and some of the claimants follow him, there is naturally suspicion about this trope being in play.
  • In the Murder, She Wrote episode "Crossed Up", Mr. Rogers had quarreled extensively with his family. The morning he was found dead, he had intended to meet with his lawyer to cut all of them except his granddaughter Leslie out of the will. Dody Rogers, his daughter-in-law, shot him before he could disinherit her and her husband.
  • Some of the cases the Five-0 unit investigate in Hawaii Five-0 end up with this being played out, although it's not always played straight. One example: in the fifth season episode "Ka Hana Malu", the sons of a murdered couple are initially suspected of arranging it to collect a large insurance payout, but it turns out that the mother had actually arranged it herself to secure her sons' future. But in "Hoʻamoano", the suspect in the murder of a woman turns out to be her half-brother, who killed her in fear that he'll lose some of his inheritance to her.
  • This is played with on Limitless. After a billionaire is murdered, Brian theorizes that one or more of the man's children might have killed him for the inheritance but it seems to be subverted when he is told that the man publicly disinherited his children some time ago and left all his money to various charities. It is then double subverted when it comes out that the dead mans' new will was never properly filed and thus his children might have murdered him if they knew about it. At the end the man was murdered by his lawyer who conspired with some of the children to hide the new will and split the money with them.
  • El Chapulín Colorado had an episode where three cousins are trying to murder their uncle for the inheritance, prompting Chapulin to try to protect him. In the end, he survives and explains to them that even if they succeeded, it would have been for naught, because he already changed his will to give all his money for charity.
  • In the Decoy episode "Bullet of Hate," a man encourages his niece to murder his wife so he can spend the $2000 she has stashed away.
  • Cited on every single Police Procedural—and their Real Life counterparts—as a possible motive, particularly if it's discovered that a suspect not only stood to inherit, he/she was in financial trouble and needed the money ASAP.

    Tabletop Games 

    Theatre 
  • In The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society Murder Mystery, the show-within-a-show whodunnit revolves around the various members of a family gathered for a will reading being killed off one by one to secure an inheritance.

    Video Games 
  • In ENIGMA: An Illusion Named Family, most of Minhyuk's family has been fighting over the money they were supposed to inherit after their father's death for the last ten years. When they find themselves trapped in the manor by their own security system with an unknown murderer wandering around, suspicions naturally run high that this is the case.
  • The Colonel's Bequest is a notable subversion. Within an hour of Colonel Dijon announcing that everyone (apart from Laura, the player character) present at the meal who outlives him will receive an equal share of his estate, people start dying. The obvious conclusion is that somebody wants a larger slice of the estate, but it ultimately turns out that the the killer had a mental breakdown about the will proving that she wasn't really her uncle's favorite as she'd always thought, and decided to restore her perceived place as his favorite relative by becoming his only relative.

     Webcomics 
  • In Something*Positive, this is actually part of a deal made by the rich guy and the potential inheritor, with Avogadro agreeing to give Kharisma a few months to get rid of him before he cuts her out of his will again. He dies without her involvement, but because of all her attempts, there's enough evidence to arrest her for murder anyway... and it turns out he lied about ever putting her in his will in the first place.
  • In Latchkey Kingdom, Princess Rosaline was content with waiting for her inheritance as long as she was sure to find it waiting for her; but when she learned her parents were trying to make a male heir, she tried to poison them to death, leaving them in a coma.

     Web Original 
  • In Pay Me, Bug!, it's speculated that Baron Mogra Tylaris was killed by his son, Rolis, so he could inherit the throne. In the sequel, A Rake by Starlight, it's proven true.

     Western Animation 


Top

Example of:

/

Feedback