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Who died first? - Covering each and every detail of your will

Jul 1, 2019

A rare but far-reaching battle over a £300,000 inheritance

Two step-sisters’ families in turmoil - neither speaking to the other. Two sets of lawyers having a field day. All because of a tiny omission in an elderly couple’s will.

Two step-sisters’ families in turmoil - neither speaking to the other. Two sets of lawyers having a field day. All because of a tiny omission in an elderly couple’s will.

In the 1990s, two middle-aged divorcees, Peter and Alice, met and married. They bought a bungalow together and looked forward to spending a long and happy life together. Each had a daughter. Sensibly, Peter and Alice organised a Will. Perhaps less sensibly, they decided that the daughter of whoever should live the longest, would inherit the bungalow. The other daughter would receive nothing.

No-one would argue that this solution wasn’t simple. However, had they properly considered the impact that their somewhat eccentric proposal might have on family relations? We’ll never know. But, something that Peter and Alice surely hadn’t predicted was what eventually transpired - that they would both die, leaving no clue as to who had passed on first.

Who had died first?

In October 2016, following calls from worried neighbours, police broke into Peter and Alice’s home. As had been feared, both were found dead. The cause was believed to be hypothermia but crucially, it was unclear who had died first. This unforeseen scenario, of course, impacted massively on deciding the inheritance, with each daughter claiming the bungalow for themselves.

Here’s how the battle lines were drawn up. Peter’s daughter claimed that he had previously been in demonstrably better health than Alice. In fact, since she had suffered a stroke some 15 years earlier, Peter had been her official carer. Surely, it was likely that Alice had died first, meaning that Peter’s daughter would inherit.

A lack of evidence ... on either side

Not so, claimed Alice’s daughter and her legal team. Firstly, there was no evidence for the other side’s claim. Secondly, Peter was eleven years older than Alice. Consequently, there was every chance that he had pre-deceased her.

The dispute, still, at the time of writing, ongoing, is being fought out on a little-used 94-year-old law. It’s most famous example dating back to the London Blitz, when a bomb killed an entire family.

Peter’s family are convinced that he had been much fitter than Alice. They point to the fact that, when last seen, he was happily chatting to neighbours, explaining that he was planning to take Alice out in the car. Furthermore, it was commonly known that Alice needed a mobility aid to walk around their home and a wheelchair when outdoors. Peter, on the other hand, was apparently fit and mobile.

The closest anyone came to concluding which of the unfortunate couple had died first was the coroner. Her view was that the condition of Alice’s body suggested that she had been the first to die. However, her opinion wasn’t conclusive.

Here’s the crux. Each side is adopting the same argument - that the other’s claim is backed by insufficient evidence. The final decision will be left to the courts, who will refer to the Law of Property Act 1925. Whatever the conclusion, one thing is clear. Before determining their Will, Alice and Peter should have taken expert advice. A qualified, experienced advisor would have inserted a clause that anticipated this scenario - perhaps leaving the bungalow to both daughters.


Here to help

Find out more about straightforward solutions to potentially complex inheritance situations. Contact Tim Mullock on 01234 713021.




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