Two step-sisters have recently been to the High Court to resolve a dispute over which of their parents died first.
John Scarle, aged 79, and his wife Marjorie Scarle, aged 69, were both found dead from hypothermia at their bungalow in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex on 11 October 2016. Mr Scarle died without leaving a Will, whilst Mrs Scarle had written a Will leaving her estate to her two blood children.
The law provides that whichever of the couple survived longest would inherit their joint assets, which they then dispose of under the Intestacy Rules if Mr Scarle lived longer, or the terms of Mrs Scarle’s Will if she lived longest. The couple jointly owned their £300,000.00 home and had £18,000.00 in a joint bank account.
With no certainty as to which of the couple had died first, Anna Winter, the only child of Mr Scarle and the Administrator of his estate brought a claim against her step-sister, Deborah Cutler, the daughter and Executrix of Mrs Scarle, to determine which of the couple died first and accordingly which of the children stood to inherit.
Ms Winter argued that her stepmother, who had previously suffered a stroke and had limited mobility, died first. Ms Cutler claimed that the order of deaths was not certain and that the legal presumption set out in the Law of Property Act 1925 that says that the younger person survives the older in circumstances where two or more people die in circumstances where the order of death is not certain, applied. That would mean Mr Scarle died first, passing the joint assets to Mrs Scarle. As such Ms Cutler and her brother, Andre Farley, would inherit the property and money under Mrs Scarle’s Will.
After hearing evidence on the rates of decomposition of the two bodies the Judge ruled in favour of Ms Cutler, who, along with her brother Mr Farley, now stands to inherit estate. The Judge said the presumption in favour of the older person dying first would apply as the evidence remained uncertain.
Whilst the facts of this case are unusual, disputes after a loved one has died are not. If you have a problem relating to a Will dispute and would like some advice please contact our specialist team for assistance.