Woman beats stepsister in £300,000 High Court inheritance battle hinging on which parent died first


A woman has won a £300,000 inheritance battle in the High Court after using a 1925 law to argue her stepfather died before her mother.

John and Ann Scarle, aged 79 and 69, died from hypothermia at their property in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, in October 2016.

Their children, who had a “strained relationship”, then become embroiled in a legal row over who would inherit the £280,000 bungalow.

The case, described as an “extraordinary, all or nothing” dispute, today concluded with one of the stepsisters walking away with the property and the other having to pay at least £150,000 in legal costs.

Anna Winter, Mr Scarle’s daughter, argued that her stepmother Mrs Scarle was likely to have died first and that means her father technically inherited the house, which should therefore be passed on to her.

But her stepsister Deborah Cutler, Mrs Scarle’s daughter, argued that it could not be said for certain who passed away first and so legally her mother, the younger party, would inherit the property.

Mrs Cutler relied on a century-old law, at the crux of cases dating back to as early as the 1940s, to win the case.

The ‘Commorientes Rule’ in Section 184 of the Law of Property Act 1925 – meaning ‘simultaneous deaths’ – states that if it cannot be determined who dies first then the younger should be presumed to have outlived the elder.


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