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Why Estate Planning Is So Important 27 December 2019

None of us likes to think about what happens when we die, but it is important to have a plan in place in order to ensure loved ones are cared for long after we've gone - and estate planning is the best way to take care of loved ones' futures, no matter what happens.

By writing a Will and considering how you want your estate to be distributed, you have the peace of mind that your wishes will be followed when you die.

What Happens If You Die At The Same Time?

Regardless of what happens or if you and your spouse or civil partner die at the same time, your Will ensures your wishes are respected by the law and your family inherits accordingly.

Without plans in place, if a couple dies together and it is uncertain who died first, section 184 of the Law of Property Act 1925 presumes the deaths occurred in order of seniority.

A recent case highlighted the importance of estate planning for couples as the inheritance of this particular couple's house depended on who died first.

Scarle v Scarle

On 11 October 2016, John Scarle (79) and Marjorie Scarle (69) were found dead in their home in Essex. It was established they had both died of hypothermia in different parts of the property but the evidence was unclear who died first.

Both had children from an earlier marriage and as the property was owned as joint tenants, whoever died second would inherit the home and in turn their family would inherit the estate. The relatives of the one who died first would inherit nothing.

If Mrs Scarle died first, Mr Scarle would have inherited the house and this would then be passed to his daughter Anna Winter, based on the rules of intestacy.

If Mr Scarle died first, Mrs Scarle would have inherited the house and this would then be inherited by her daughter Deborah Cutler, based on her Will.

Mr Scarle's daughter argued that although he was older, his health was better and he had been his wife's full-time carer for the last few years, and that therefore he was more likely to have outlived his wife.

Despite the evidence, it was not possible to state who had died first. Judge Kramer said the evidence suggested Mrs Scarle had died first but as he couldn't be certain, section 184 of the Law of Property Act 1925 would dictate the outcome - he awarded the estate (worth in the region of £300,000) to Mrs Scarle's relatives.

Furthermore, the Judge highlighted the lack of willingness to mediate by the representatives of Mr Scarle's family. As a result of this, the Judge ordered Mr Scarle's daughter as the Claimant to pay the Defendant's costs - indemnity costs can be used to penalise one side for their conduct, and in this case, it was used to highlight the Claimant's refusal to mediate.

Why Estate Planning Is Key

The Scarle v Scarle case highlights the importance of estate planning and what can happen if proper plans are not put in place. Making a Will means ensuring loved ones and family are taken care of when you die, no matter what happens.

This is important for everyone, but especially key for those individuals with a complex family set-up or who are in their second marriage. Speak to your solicitor for advice on drafting your Will to ensure everyone you want to inherit from your estate, does so.

We are here to help if you need advice and guidance on how to handle a dispute relating to an estate or if you want professional help to write a Will.

To speak to one of our specialist Wills and Probate solicitors about estate planning, please contact us at our Failsworth office on 0161 681 4005 or at our Chorlton office on 0161 860 7123 or email