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Legal News | 11.09.20

Simultaneous deaths…or are they?

The Commorientes Rule

The importance of having a Will and ensuring that this is professionally written was highlighted by the outcome of a High Court case last year. The case of Scarle v Scarle involved the question of who is to inherit when it is uncertain which spouse dies first.

When 79-year-old Mr Scarle and 69-year-old Mrs Scarle were both discovered dead in their home, it incited a debate over who died first. Mr and Mrs Scarle each had separate children from former marriages and both died without a Will. The couple jointly owned property worth £300,000 and it was the entitlement to this property, upon which the couple’s separate daughters, from former marriages, were asking the High Court to decide.

The dispute arises from an historic law known as the Commorientes Rule. The law states that if two or more people die in circumstances where it is not possible to determine who died first, the younger is deemed to survive the elder.

In the Scarle’s tragic circumstances, the High Court had to consider whether there was sufficient evidence at the scene to determine the order of deaths.

Expert evidence was consulted and due to various factors, including one expert claiming that different ‘micro climates’ were present within the property, the time and date of the deaths could not be sufficiently determined. It was uncertain who died first. Therefore, the High Court held that the Commorientes Rule, which is found in s184 of the Law of Property Act 1925, would apply and the rule was upheld.

Consequently, Mrs Scarle was determined to have survived Mr Scarle. This resulted in the jointly owned property forming part of Mrs Scarle’s estate and then passing to her daughter under the rules of intestacy. Mr Scarle’s daughter was not entitled to any share of the property.

A professionally written Will enables you to have more control over who inherits your assets and can help your heirs avoid situations such as in the case of Scarle v Scarle. For more information about preparing a Will, or if you would like to review your current Will, please contact us on 01380 733300 or wealth@wansbroughs.com


Posted By Our Wills, Tax, Trusts & Probate Team