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Why the legal battle over which parent died first would not happen in Scotland

will advise in GlasgowGrabbing the headlines recently was the story of a woman who has won an “all or nothing” legal battle against her stepsister in determining which of their parents died first.  Mr and Mrs Scarle were both found dead by police in their house in October 2016 and, from the circumstances, it was not clear which of the two died first. Determining who died first was crucial in determining which stepsister would be entitled to inherit the £300,000 bungalow they shared.


It is important to note that the outcome would have been very different if this same circumstance happened in Scotland. Under section 9 of the Succession Scotland Act 2016, when it is unclear what order two or more people died, neither person is treated as having survived the other.


The court heard evidence from both Anna Winter, Mr Scarle’s daughter and Deborah Cutler, Mrs Scarle’s daughter.  Anna Winter argued that it was likely from medical evidence that Mrs Scarle died first.  Deborah Cutler’s argument relied upon an old English law from 1925 stating that if it cannot be determined who has died first then the younger person is presumed to have outlived the elder. In this case, Mrs Scarle was younger than Mr Scarle.


The judge in this case did not find the medical evidence presented by Anna Winter (Mr Scarle’s daughter) persuasive and ruled in favour of Deborah Cutler (Mrs Scarle’s daughter). She is now set to inherit the bungalow to the exclusion of her stepsister.


English law has resulted in an “all or nothing” scenario.


Under Scots Law, the outcome would have been entirely different in that both Mr Scarle and Mrs Scarle would have effectively died widowed. Their respective estates would have been distributed in accordance with their Will or the laws of intestacy, flowing down to their intended beneficiaries under the Will or their own biological children under the laws of intestacy, avoiding the “all or nothing” result we saw in England.


It is important to know the way in which the laws of Succession in Scotland will affect your estate. If you require estate planning advice, please contact Oracle Law on 0141 404 1091.

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