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Legal News | 25.07.19

Who inherits after simultaneous deaths?

When 79-year-old Mr Searle and 69-year-old Mrs Searle were both discovered dead in their home, it incited a debate over who died first. Mr and Mrs Searle each had separate children from former marriages and both died without a Will. Now the two families are at war asking the High Court to decide who is entitled to inherit the house valued at around £300,000.

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.

This rarely practised law is most famously remembered by a case arising in World War 2. It is reported that during the Battle of Britain, a bomb landed on a house, killing all four people in a shelter in the basement below. The Court held that where there is no evidence to prove that any one person had survived the others, then the Commorientes Rule would apply.

In the Searle’s tragic circumstances, the High Court has to consider whether there was sufficient evidence at the scene to determine the order of deaths. If expert evidence cannot determine the time and date of each death, Mrs Searle will be determined to have survived Mr Searle and the property will form part of her estate and pass to her children by the rules of intestacy.

Whilst we still await the Court’s decision on the Searle’s matter, it highlights the importance of having a Will and ensuring it has been professionally written. 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.

Last updated 25/07/2019


Posted By Our Wills, Tax, Trusts & Probate Team