When it comes to protecting assets, prevention is better than cure
The recent – and highly unusual – case between two stepsisters battling over who was to receive their parents’ estate, has highlighted how important it is to get advice from a professional when it comes to preparing a will and protecting assets.
John and Marjorie Ann Scarle were found dead from hypothermia in their bungalow in 2016, leaving a £300,000 estate behind them. Forensic evidence suggested that Mrs Scarle died first, resulting in Mr Scarle inheriting the assets, which would then be received by his daughter. However, the other sister disputed that forensic evidence, instead saying that the position was unclear, so relied on a 95-year-old legal presumption that the elder of the two died first leading to her inheriting the estate instead.
Andrew Wilkinson, our partner and will disputes specialist, shares his thoughts:
“Modern medical science and forensics makes it much easier to establish the order of death. Therefore, the presumption is rarely used. However, the High Court ruling demonstrates that such laws still have influence, making it even more important for people to make sure their affairs are arranged in such a way so as to ensure that they end up with their intended beneficiaries”
“One of the first things that should be decided is whether property is owned as joint tenants or tenants in common. The former means that a property is passed automatically to the survivor, the latter ensures that the deceased’s share passes under their will.
“Modern family structure are leading to an increase in the number of complex inheritance disputes, such as the Scarle case. However, some of those disputes can be avoided. It is important for everyone, even those with relatively simple estates to take professional advice on what happens to their assets when they die, to avoid any unexpected outcomes.”