To some this may seem a strange question but in the context of Wills this can be a very important question and sometimes pivotal in determining who inherits an estate.In the recent case of John Scarle and Ann Scarle, which was heard in the High Court at the end of June 2019, John and Ann were both found dead from Hypothermia in October 2016 in their home in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. The family are now locked in a dispute over who inherits their combined estate.0 Advanced issues found▲1
For both John and Ann this was their second marriage. They both had children from their first marriages; John had one daughter and Ann had a son and daughter.
Due to the wording of their Wills, the survivor of them would inherit the whole estate and thereafter the children of the survivor would inherit.
In this case it has not been medically possible to determine which one of them died first. The children of the deceased couple are now engaged in a legal action through the High Court to determine which side of the family will inherit the combined estate.
Section 184 of the Law of Property Act 1925, otherwise known as the Commorientes Rule (literally meaning “simultaneous deaths”), states that (subject to any court order) if two or more people die in circumstances where it is not possible to tell who died first, the deaths are presumed to have occurred in order of seniority, so the younger is deemed to survive the elder.
Ann Scarle was 10 years younger than her husband. With this in mind, her children’s barrister James Weale, told Judge Phillip Kramer that Mr Scarle’s daughter needed to provide “clear, reliable and compelling evidence” to rebut the presumption imposed by the Commorientes Rule.
The judge has reserved his ruling on the dispute until a later date.0 Advanced issues found▲
There are many things that can be stated in a Will to avoid such disputes. If John and Ann had taken advice on the preparation of their Wills this dispute may have been avoided.
By taking appropriate advice you can ensure that your affairs are dealt with smoothly and efficiently and it should also minimise the risk of delays and costs of a legal dispute.
Planning for the future is not always pleasant, but putting legally binding arrangements in place now can prevent stress and expense for your loved ones in the future.
Our Private Client Team have been recognised as one of the leading private client departments in the region by Legal 500 UK, and are able to prepare a Will and Lasting Power of Attorney for you that reflects your personal wishes and requirements.
In addition to these services, we also offer related expert estate planning, tax and trust advice.6 Advanced issues found▲ This article was written by Claire Buttress, Senior Associate in the Private Client Team at Pinney Talfourd LLP Solicitors. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as of July 2019.