The mystery of who died last

You might have seen this disturbing story in the news recently.

In October 2016, neighbours worried when they hadn’t seen or heard elderly couple John and Ann Scarle for a while. They called the police, who found the couple in their Essex bungalow had died from hypothermia.

Each had a daughter from a previous marriage, and the step-sisters are now battling over the £300,000 property.

A little-used law* declares that the inheritance goes to the family of whoever died last… but experts say this is impossible to prove.

John’s daughter, Anna Winter, insists that Ann probably died first because she’d suffered a stroke and had mobility issues. This would mean that her father would have (briefly) inherited Ann’s share and passed it on to Anna.

Ann’s daughter, Deborah Cutler, argues that John probably died first because he was older, meaning that she and her brother Andre Farley would inherit the house.

This tricky situation is up to High Court judge, Philip Kramer, to resolve. He has reserved his ruling until a later date.

What this means for you

To prevent your descendants getting into a mess like this, all you need to do is make a Will. It’s just sensible financial planning! A Will declaring your wishes means your assets will go to the individuals or institutions you want, avoid the inheritance you leave being eaten up by legal fees, and means your loved ones won’t be locked in a legal battle.

* The Law of Property Act 1924