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Probate dispute shows the importance of a joint approach to Wills

The dispute over the estates of two pensioners, John and Marjorie Scarle, has shown the importance of a joint approach to individual Wills.

Both John and Marjorie had children from a previous marriage, and the way in which their Wills were structured meant that who would be a beneficiary was dependent on which of them died first.

The judge applied Section 184 of the Law of Property Act 1925, in the absence of any substantial evidence, which says that in cases where it cannot be determined who died first, that the younger is ruled to have survived.

As a result, the couple’s bungalow, which was jointly-owned, was passed by survivorship to Marjorie, as she was the youngest. It was then passed to Marjorie’s children as per the instructions in her Will.

Both Marjorie and John did not have Wills that dealt with their assets correctly, irrespective of who died first. The families could not settle the dispute prior to the ruling, which resulted in legal costs in excess of £170,000, despite the property being worth under £300,000.

In marriage, Wills often stipulate that the assets will go to the survivor when the first person dies, and subsequently, it is split equally between children when they die. However, there are circumstances such as second marriages or less straightforward familial relationships that can complicate proceedings.

The ruling shows the importance of effective estate planning, as well as a Will being created effectively to ensure that the wishes of the deceased are followed. Unfortunately, this is an example in which the Will neglected to consider that it’s impossible to know which of the couple would die first.

To ensure that your Will is made with careful consideration, and to avoid significant legal costs, contact our expert team today.

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David Webb

David Webb

Director - Head of Wills, Probate & Older Client Services
I specialise in probate and the administration of estates, trust and tax planning, preparation of Wills, Lasting Powers of Attorney and Court of Protection applications.

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