Don’t play with the lottery of death
As has recently been seen in the news, two step-sisters have been battling over who was entitled to receive their inheritance after the death of their parents, Mr and Mrs Scarle, who were both found dead in their Leigh-on-Sea bungalow.
The step-sisters, Ms Cutler and Ms Winter, had a ‘strained relationship’ and the whole dispute centred on which parent died first.
The answer to that question would decide which of the two step-sisters would inherit the whole estate.
The case was fought in the High Court, where a Judge relied on an old law stating that where a husband and wife die in circumstances that make it impossible to determine the order of death, it is presumed that the oldest had died first. Therefore, Mrs Scarle (being younger) was deemed to have outlived her husband, meaning her daughter, Ms Cutler, was the sole beneficiary and Ms Winter was left with nothing but a massive legal bill – hers and that of her sister.
One of the main questions arising from this case is whether or not the argument could have been prevented, and if so, could the step-sisters have each received an inheritance? The answer is yes on both points.
Both Mr and Mrs Scarle could have sought advice regarding what could happen to their assets after their deaths, and with some simple estate planning and appropriately drafted Wills, the dispute between the two step-daughters would have been easily avoided.
This particular scenario is unusual, although second or even third marriages with step-children are fairly common these days. This means that life after death is now that little bit more complicated, especially if an appropriately drafted Will is not in place.
To get advice on ensuring your estate is distributed in accordance with your wishes, or if you have any questions concerning the above, please contact one of our highly experienced Wills and estate planning experts on 01702 474149 (Leigh-on-Sea) or 01268 774073 (Rayleigh).