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Stepdaughters in inheritance dispute after couple found dead at home

The stepdaughters of a couple who were found dead at their home are embroiled in a legal dispute over who is entitled to the £280,000 property.

The dispute between Anna Winter and Deborah Cutler has arisen because it is not known whether John Scarle or his wife Ann died first.

If Mr Scarle is deemed to have died first, his estate would have passed to Mrs Scarle and, therefore, her daughter, Deborah Cutler, would inherit the home.

However, if Mrs Scarle is found to have died first, her estate would have passed to Mr Scarle and, therefore, his daughter, Anna Winter, would inherit the home.

The legal presumption under the Law of Property Act 1925 is that the older person, Mr Scarle, would have died first unless it can be proven beyond reasonable doubt that Mrs Scarle predeceased her husband.

Mr Scarle’s daughter is attempting to prove that despite being older, her father would have outlived his wife who was frail and suffered from a number of health problems. A decision in the case is expected later in the year.

Linsey Graham, a CILEx Probate Practitioner with Mander Hadley who specialises in Wills and Probate, said: “The piece of legislation being challenged is known as the ‘Commorientes Rule,’ which is supposed to make clear the order of inheritance when two people die in the same circumstance but their order of death is unclear.

“It was often used during the Second World War where couples or entire families were wiped out during the Blitz.

“Although the circumstances in which Mr and Mrs Scarle died are unusual, it is not uncommon for couples or indeed families to die together or shortly after each other, for example in road traffic accidents.

“To avoid any potential disputes over inheritance, such as this one, it is important that Wills are put in place with an appropriate property trust which is fair to all concerned and avoids the lottery of who survives whom.

“Making a Will is not particularly time-consuming but it can be more complicated than some people may imagine. That’s why it is important to seek legal advice rather than attempting to draft a DIY Will.”

For help and advice on drafting or updating a Will, please contact us.

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Linsey Graham
I have worked for Mander Hadley for 17 years and specialise in Wills, trusts, tax, probate and the administration of estates.

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