Accused of killing her severely disabled 8-year-old daughter by neglecting her basic needs, special education teacher Nicole Diggs may still inherit the girl’s nearly $1 million trust fund — even if she’s convicted.
Diggs and her husband pleaded not guilty to charges of negligent homicide and child endangerment in the 2012 death of Alayah Savarese, who was the beneficiary of a trust fund created from the settlement of a malpractice suit that stemmed from complications during her birth.
Although the trust fund was not mentioned as a motive in Diggs’ indictment, her attorney claims prosecutors are nevertheless implying that her client “somehow disposed of her daughter in order to obtain the money,” and now the attorney wants any mention of the trust fund barred from trial and also says her client didn’t neglect Alayah.
The Westchester County prosecutors have built their case on claims that Alayah “was not provided required daily food,” did not receive necessary medical treatment, was often left unattended and was frequently kept home from school, depriving her of physical and occupational therapy.
According to authorities, the little girl suffered lacerations, bruises and welts which they say come from the neglect. And court papers say, Diggs and her husband, Oscar Thomas — who isn’t Alayah’s father — also “failed to maintain the child’s hygiene which caused her to have smelly and dirty hair and clothing, a foul odor about her body and bleeding gums.”
When Alayah died she was being cared for by one of Thomas’ friends in a Yonkers apartment. The friend was not trained nor equipped to deal with the child’s medical issues, court papers allege.
But even if Diggs is convicted, it doesn’t necessarily threaten her chances of inheriting her daughter’s fortune because she isn’t charged with intent to kill the girl and New York courts have generally held that without intent, a homicide doesn’t disqualify someone from inheriting from a victim, said St. John’s Law School professor Margaret Turano, a trust and estate expert.
John Riordan, an attorney and former Surrogate’s Court Judge in Nassau County, said, “If it’s unintentional, then the person can still inherit. … But the facts of this case are very unsettling, and under the circumstances, it doesn’t seem correct that that would happen.”
If anyone should happen to challenge the mothers’ inheritance to her daughter’s fortune, it would have to happen in a separate court, Westchester County Surrogate’s Court, where a bank is named administrator of the girl’s estate.
Diggs is not even in custody and continues to work for the New York City public school system, but in an administrative capacity. She is not allowed contact with students nor is she allowed to use any of the trust fund money on her defense. Her attorneys are being paid out of taxpayers funds.
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