Chester 01244 405555

Grosvenor Court
Foregate Street Chester
Cheshire CH1 1HG
DX: 19990 Chester

Shrewsbury 01743 443 043

Lakeside House
Oxon Business Park
Shrewsbury SY3 5HJ
DX: 148563 Shrewsbury 14

Airport City, Manchester 0844 800 8346

Office 129
Manchester Business Park
3000 Aviator Way
Manchester M22 5TG

Send us a message
Our Offices

Understanding the “commorientes rule” and survivorship

Wills Article - Paul Caslin

16th October, 2019

In England and Wales, where two or more people have died simultaneously or where it is not possible to determine the order of death, the law presumes that the deaths occurred in order of seniority.

This is known as the “commorientes rule” (s.184 Law of Property Act 1925) which is concerned with determining survivorship and can dictate the order in which the estate of a couple is distributed. The youngest will be assumed to have died last; therefore, will inherit any jointly owned property and, potentially, inherit under the eldest’s will or the Intestacy rules if there is no Will.

Whereas some couples may be aware of and intend survivorship to be the desired effect for the purposes of their estate planning, the application of law to your estate if you have children from a previous relationship could produce results that you did not intend, lead to disappointed beneficiaries and fuel costly disputes.

This was recently illustrated in the case of Mr & Mrs Scarle. The High Court was asked by two feuding step-sisters to decide which of their parents (who had both found dead at their bungalow from hypothermia) died first to determine which step-sister would inherit their parents combined estate.

Without medical evidence to prove otherwise, the commorientes rule applied and so Mr Scarle, 10 years older than his wife, was presumed to have died first. On this basis and without a Will, Mr Scarle’s assets briefly passed to his wife by survivorship before passing to her own children who were entitled to Mrs Scarle’s combined estate (worth £300,000) under the Intestacy Rules. Mr Scarle’s daughter received nothing.

This case demonstrates the importance of having a Will to record who should inherit your estate and to control how your assets are to be distributed to your beneficiaries, as intended by you, and not onwards according to somebody else’s Will or by the law.

We can protect your assets for your chosen loved ones by providing appropriate and practical estate planning advice; and by drafting specific and robust provisions in a Will that is tailored to your family circumstances.


Wills, Trusts and Tax

Email: [email protected]
Tel: 01244 405 411

You might also be interested in...

Recognising When You Can Claim Adverse Possession

20th November, 2019

Adverse possession has posed a threat to land owners for a number of years. In the case of... Read More »

James Wallace Inheritance Tax Imagery for Article

Understanding how to save your beneficiaries Inheritance Tax

20th November, 2019

Why embracing the spirit of goodwill during the festive season could save your beneficiaries Inheritance Tax… It’s no... Read More »

Invertek Drives Aaron and Partners Deal

£100m deal for Welsh manufacturer rubber-stamped

14th November, 2019

Shropshire law firm Aaron & Partners plays a lead role in finalising one of the biggest international deals... Read More »

Contact Us