There has been a dramatic increase over the last 15 years in the number of inheritance disputes reaching the High Court in England and Wales. In 2005, there were just 15 cases brought to the High Court under the Inheritance (Provisions for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, compared to 158 cases in 2016.

A recent and rather unusual dispute that reached the High Court involved the death of Mr and Mrs Scarle who both died of hypothermia. Their stepdaughters were disputing who died first to determine who would inherit their £300,000 house.

Anna Winter, Mr Scarle’s daughter, believed that her step-mum would have died first and therefore, her share of the property would have momentarily passed to Mr Scarle, before passing to Anna herself. However, Mrs Scarle’s daughter, Deborah Cutler, argued that her step-dad died first so his share of the house would have briefly been inherited by Mrs Scarle, and then passed to her children Deborah and Andre.

If it is not clear which person died first it should be presumed that the eldest person died first, under section 184 of the Law of Property Act 1925. Mr Scarle was 10 years older than his wife and would have been presumed to have died first, however, it was argued that due to the conditions of the bodies, it was more probable that Mrs Scarle died first.

It was up to the High Court to decide who died first and consequently, which side of the family would inherit Mr and Mrs Scarle’s property.The Judge decided that there was not enough medical evidence to determine who died first. Therefore, the Law of Property Act 1925, presumed that the eldest, Mr Scarle, died first and, as a result, Deborah Cutler, the daughter of Mrs Scarle was entitled to the £300,000 inheritance.

To reduce the chance of disputes over inheritance, it is advised to keep a well-drafted and valid Will.

For more information contact David Boon at Muxloe Wills on 0116 239 2409.