Stepsisters’ inheritance battle could have been avoided

Stepsisters’ inheritance battle could have been avoided

Whilst reading an article in the Times recently, it occurred to me that there is quite often more than financial issues at stake when it comes to legal battles. In the case of two stepsisters, it can also be true that heartache and relationships can also be put at risk – but perhaps the cruellest fact is, that all of this could have been avoided, simply by making a will.

Following the death of Mr and Mrs Scarle from Leigh on Sea, an article in the Times reported how the couple’s two daughters, who were both from previous marriages, had been asked to prove which of the parents died first in order to access their full inheritance claim.

The report revealed the Scarles were found dead from hypothermia at their home in 2016. The couple died intestate – in other words, they died without a will – which meant that passing their estate to the next of kin is proving tricky.

In a case that was said to be the first of its kind since the 1950s, the High Court ruled that blood family of the deceased that passed first will inherit the £280,000 family home in Essex. The other side of the family will get nothing.

For the two daughters, it literally means one will inherit the full estate, the other will not receive a penny. The result has been a lot of family upset, not only from facing the death of a parent, but between the step sisters and their immediate family too.

Whilst it seems barbaric that the stepsisters would have to prove who died first, under the Law of Property Act 1925, the commorientes rule stipulates that in circumstances where two or more people die and it is unclear whether one survived the other, it is presumed that the older person died first – even though the true sequence of events between the Scarles is unlikely to ever be known.

The fact is, with a will, all of this could have been avoided. A will outlines in law how you would like your estate to be divided in the event of your death. It can ensure that your wishes are carried out and that your family are left with peace of mind.

If you would like more information about writing your will, or you need to update an existing will, contact the Private Client team to see how we can help.