Jeffrey Epstein’s Death: What Happens When A Defendant Dies?

When a defendant dies, the victims have no recourse to assuage their pain, their experiences, or their need for justice.


Disgraced financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein is dead. Details concerning his passing at Metropolitan Corrections Center in New York, New York, are still being uncovered, but at this time it appears to have been a suicide. An investigation as to the details surrounding the death is underway.

Epstein was jailed as a result of significant sex-trafficking charges. His death immediately followed the release of extensive court documents detailing his alleged abuse of women and underaged girls in addition to naming other individuals who may have been involved. His death closes the criminal case against him. For the victims, his death is troubling, because they will never have the ability to witness him take accountability for his crimes. Although the investigation regarding the sex-trafficking will continue and likely focus on the other individuals involved, the victims will not have any closure with regard to Epstein.

Besides the criminal cases against Epstein, civil proceedings also exist and may increase in number. As a result of his death, his estate will be substituted as defendant. Given the breadth of his estate, estimated at $2 billion, including a Caribbean island and a mansion in Manhattan, successful plaintiffs will likely see some monetary reward.

Although the death of a defendant ends a criminal matter, in a civil proceeding it changes the tenure,  complicating the lawsuit. Often, a defendant decedent’s family is not eager to administer the deceased’s estate. Administering the estate means defending the lawsuit and possibly the loss of funds in the defense and with a judgment. A defense without the the defendant, the main witness, can be difficult. Plaintiffs are sometimes compelled to file for the administration of the defendant’s estate in probate court so that someone can represent the defendant in the matter even if his family is unwilling. Generally, if no family wants to serve, the Public Administrator or even sometimes a creditor will stand in the decedent’s place.

The death of a defendant stalls the civil proceeding until a proper representative is appointed by the probate court. Given the complexity of the decedent’s family, the status of a last will and testament, and the general tone of the litigation, the substitution may take some time.  Often there is little information concerning a defendant decedent’s next-of-kin, and significant diligence must be completed before a court will appoint an administrator. As in the Epstein case, plaintiffs will not have the opportunity to personally confront the defendant and may have to deal with someone who had no connection to the decedent, thus complicating any sense of closure.

Plaintiffs die as well. In these cases, a deceased plaintiff’s estate will be substituted in her stead. Any recovery from a lawsuit wherein the decedent was a plaintiff will be considered an asset of her estate and distributed pursuant to her last will and testament or the state’s laws of intestacy. It therefore behooves a decedent-plaintiff’s family to substitute an estate into the proceeding so that the matter can speedily proceed and hopefully collect a judgment.

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In addition to the multitude of reasons to execute a last will and testament, if involved in a civil lawsuit, it is imperative to appoint an executor in the event of death. By doing so, you ensure that the induvial you choose defends or pursues the matter on your behalf, and hopefully, as you wish. Similarly, it is important to have a power of attorney so that in the event you become incapacitated during your lifetime, another appointed agent can take over your litigation without complication.

For all litigants in a civil proceeding, the death of a party is a complicating factor. A civil matter, however, is generally brought for a monetary reward or some kind of specific performance. The surviving party will eventually gain closure in the form of a  decision accompanied by a payment or maybe an action. Unfortunately in the criminal sphere, in addition to the defendant and the prosecuting entity, there are victims. When a defendant dies, the victims have no recourse to assuage their pain, their experiences, or their need for justice. This reality emphasizes the gravity of the crime and the pain that subsists despite any opportunity to monetarily collect in a civil proceeding. As the Epstein investigations and civil matters proceed, let us be mindful of the victims, who will never really get what they deserve.

Cori A. Robinson is a solo practitioner having founded Cori A. Robinson PLLC, a New York and New Jersey law firm, in 2017. For more than a decade Cori has focused her law practice on trusts and estates and elder law including estate and Medicaid planning, probate and administration, estate litigation, and guardianships. She can be reached at


Epstein’s neck: A.M. News Links

By Cliff Pinckard,

Associated Press

Autopsy finds broken bones in Jeffrey Epstein’s neck, deepening questions around his death

An autopsy found that financier Jeffrey Epstein sustained multiple breaks in his neck bones, according to two people familiar with the findings, deepening the mystery about the circumstances around his death.

Among the bones broken in Epstein’s neck was the hyoid bone, which in men is near the Adam’s apple. Such breaks can occur in those who hang themselves, particularly if they are older, according to forensics experts and studies on the subject. But they are more common in victims of homicide by strangulation, the experts said.

The details add to the bizarre circumstances surrounding Epstein’s death, which have launched a wave of questions and conspiracy theories about how he could have died in federal custody. (Washington Post)