Modern Family Structures and Unintended Consequences

 

When couples talk to me about making a Will, they often ask what would happen if they both died together in a car crash-who would inherit their assets if they didn’t have a Will. Answer-in the legal world, where the order of death is uncertain, the older partner is assumed to have died first.

A tragic case has just been reported where a married couple, who each had a daughter from previous relationships, sadly died of hypothermia in 2016 and were found in their house a week later; Mr Scarle was 79 and his wife, Mrs Scarle, 69. The presumption was therefore that Mr Scarle died first being 10 years older, meaning his assets would then pass to his Wife under the intestacy rules and then on to Mrs Scarle’s daughter. Mr Scarle’s daughter would receive nothing.

Mr Scarle’s daughter is challenging the decision saying that it was much more likely that Mrs Scarle died first due to her medical condition (she had suffered a stroke in 1998) and was generally in poor health. If she can produce clear evidence that Mrs Scarle died first then it is Mr Scarle’s daughter who would inherit the entire estate. The decision on the case is to be given at a later date.

This is a sad and rare case but it does highlight the need for professional advice where there are complex family structures if you wish to avoid disputes in the future. A solicitor specialising in Wills would have addressed the issue of how to ensure each of their children could have benefitted when they had both passed away.