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Who Died Last – the Youngest “Wins” or is There a Better Way?

The step-sisters of an elderly couple who died together at home, are fighting in Court to prove whose parent died last in order to inherit a sum of £300,000.

Anna Winter and Deborah Cutler have gone to the High Court to fight over the house and cash left by John Scarle, 79, and his wife Ann, 69, after they died in October 2016, just days after their 26th wedding anniversary.

In the first case of its kind in over 70 years in this country, it focuses around the ‘Commorientes Rule’.  The Rule makes provision for where two or more people die in the same circumstance and their order of death cannot be ascertained.  If post-mortem examinations and evidence given to police cannot decide the question – then a judge will use the Rule, which assumes the deaths occurred in order of seniority i.e. the eldest person involved died first and the youngest last.

In this case, it would mean that the family of Ann Scarle, being the younger of the two, would be determined to have died last and thus her family would inherit the Estate.

This case serves to show the difficulties that can face today’s modern, blended, family structure on death.  It is now common for people to have complex family setups; such as second or third marriages but have children from previous relationships.  It is therefore extremely important that spouses in such a situation think very carefully about how they want their spouse/children/step-children to inherit and instruct a solicitor to prepare a properly drafted Will which fully reflect their wishes.  If Mr and Mrs Scarle had done this, this case would have never needed to go to Court.

Here at Guy Williams Layton, we have the specialist knowledge to be able to guide you through such potential minefields and ensure that you end up with a Will that reflects your wishes and gives you the certainty and peace of mind that you deserve.

If you would like further advice on this matter, please contact Georgina Roberts or Peter Marsh in Heswall on 0151 342 1831 or Jane Hogg in Liverpool on 0151 236 7171.