The daughter of a pensioner who died three years ago has emerged victorious in an inheritance dispute with her stepsister, thanks to a little-known legal provision.

Majorie Scarle was 69 when she and her husband John, 79, fell victim to hypothermia at their home in Essex in 2016. Both the couple had daughters from previous marriages. The dispute arose over which of the two should inherit the couple’s estate and home.

Under the 1925 Law of Property Act, the daughter whose parent died last would inherit because they themselves would technically have inherited the whole estate and house after the death of their spouse, and that entitlement would then pass to their child.

The couple were found in different rooms of the home with differing temperatures, but the coroner was unable to establish which of the two had passed away first.

Section 184 of the 1925 Act states that:

“Such deaths shall (subject to any order of the court), for all purposes affecting the title to property, be presumed to have occurred in order of seniority, and accordingly the younger shall be deemed to have survived the elder.”

Therefore, in order to inherit, Majorie’s daughter Deborah Ann Cutler, had to demonstrate that this presumption should apply to the case, while her stepsister Anna Winter had to persuade a court that it should not.

Judge Philip Kramer QC ruled, since that there was no way to be sure which of the couple had passed away first, the presumption should apply and the inheritance should therefore go to Deborah Ann Cutler.

Image by Martin Pettitt via Flickr (Creative Commons