Scarle v Scarle Case: Step Sisters Inheritance Dispute

by | Jul 30, 2023 | Wills

The Scarle v Scarle Case

Scarle v Scarle inheritance disputeInheritance disputes are an unfortunate reality that many families face, often leading to strained relationships and legal battles.

One case that has captured the attention of both legal professionals and the public is the Scarle v Scarle case, which shines a light on the complexities surrounding step-siblings and their entitlement to inheritance. This high-profile case revolves around the tragic deaths of John Scarle and his wife Ann, and the ensuing dispute between their respective daughters, Ann Winter and Deborah Cutler, from previous relationships.

The question of who should inherit the couple’s property has sparked a heated debate, with legal experts delving into the intricacies of the law and the implications of this case on future inheritance disputes involving stepchildren.

Join us as we explore the key insights from the Scarle v Scarle case, shedding light on the legal principles at play and the potential impact on step children and their inheritance rights.

Understanding inheritance disputes and their impact on step-siblings

When it comes to inheritance, step-siblings often find themselves navigating a complex legal landscape. Blended families, like the Scarle family, bring together children from previous relationships, leading to unique challenges when it comes to dividing assets after the death of a parent.

In the Scarle v Scarle case, the daughters, Ann and Deborah, were left to dispute the inheritance of their parents’ property.

In such cases, step-siblings may face various hurdles in their quest for a fair share. The relationship between step-siblings may not always be harmonious, leading to disputes over assets and entitlement. It is crucial to understand the legal principles at play to navigate the complexities of inheritance disputes involving step-siblings.

Scarle v Scarle case facts in general terms

  • On 11 October 2016, married couple Mr Scarle, aged 79, and Mrs Scarle aged 69, were sadly discovered to have  died in their bungalow in Essex, by a PC Daniels.
  • Mrs Scarle was found first  in the bathroom, with Mr Scarle being subsequently found in the lounge.
  • Experts agreed that both Mr & Mrs Scarle had died of hypothermia in separate rooms in the house.
  • It was not possible to establish the date of the deaths, but they occurred in the period 5 October 2016 to 9 October 2016.
  • There was a dispute between the step-sisters to whom died first.
  • Neither of the couple had made a Will.
  • The couple had a jointly owned bungalow and around £18,000 in a joint bank account.

The legal issue

The Scarle v Scarle case brought to light several key legal issues that have significant implications for step-siblings and their inheritance rights. Especially as there had been no Will written by either spouse.

The primary issue was the question of who died first, as the order of death determined the distribution of the couple’s property. The case highlighted the importance of clear and concise estate planning.

Where there are jointly owned assets, in this case namely the home and bank account, the law states that the last surviving owner is entitled to the entire property. In the situation where both owners have passed away, the assets would be inherited by the respective estates. So in this case, if Mr Scarle had died second, the assets would pass to his estate, and if Mrs Scarle had died second her estate would be entitled to the assets.

Where it is uncertain as to who died first s184 Law of Property Act 1925 presumes that the elder would have predeceased the younger.

Presumption of survivorship in regard to claims to property.

In all cases where, after the commencement of this Act, two or more persons have died in circumstances rendering it uncertain which of them survived the other or others, 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.

As such it was presumed that Mr Scarle died first thus resulting that the jointly owned property passed to Mrs Scarle’s estate. It was contested by various scientific data that it could be proved that Mrs Scarle had actually died first.

However, the court concluded that as there was insufficient evidence to conclude Mrs Scarle had died first, s 184 of the Law of Property Act 1925, would apply. As such it was determined that Mrs. Scarle had survived Mr. Scarle. As a result, the bungalow and the bank account were inherited by the individuals entitled to Mrs. Scarle’s estate.

You can read the full Scarle v Scarle case here.

Analysis of the court’s decision and its implications

The court’s decision in the Scarle v Scarle case had far-reaching implications for step-sisters and their inheritance rights. The ruling, which favoured the daughter of the younger deceased parent, raised concerns about the potential unfairness faced by step-siblings in similar situations. Legal experts debated the reasoning behind the court’s decision, with some arguing that it highlighted the need for updated legislation to address the complexities of modern blended families.

The case also highlighted the importance of having a valid and up-to-date will. Without a will, the distribution of assets becomes subject to intestacy laws, which may not necessarily align with an individual’s wishes. The Scarle v Scarle case served as a stark reminder of the consequences of inadequate estate planning and the potential for disputes among step-siblings.

Lessons learned from the Scarle v Scarle case

The Scarle v Scarle case offers several valuable lessons for families and legal professionals alike. Firstly, it underscores the importance of clear and comprehensive estate planning. Creating a will that reflects an individual’s wishes and clearly outlines the distribution of assets can help prevent disputes and provide guidance to loved ones.

Secondly, the case highlights the need for open communication within blended families. Discussing inheritance matters openly can help prevent misunderstandings and ensure that everyone involved understands their rights and responsibilities. By addressing potential issues before they arise, step-siblings can work towards a more amicable resolution.

Tips for avoiding inheritance disputes among step-siblings

step-siblings inheritance argument Scarle v ScarleTo avoid inheritance disputes among step-siblings, it is crucial to take proactive measures. Here are a few tips to promote harmony and fairness:

1. Open communication: Encourage open and honest discussions about inheritance matters to prevent misunderstandings and conflicts.

2. Create a will: Ensure that a valid will is in place, clearly outlining the intended distribution of assets.

3. Seek legal advice: Consult with an experienced estate planning lawyer to navigate the complexities of inheritance laws and ensure that your wishes are properly documented.

4. Consider a trust: Setting up a trust could provide additional protection and flexibility when it comes to distributing assets among step-siblings.

5. Update your estate plan: Regularly review and update your estate plan to reflect any changes in family dynamics, financial circumstances, or legal requirements.

The importance of estate planning in blended families

The Scarle v Scarle case serves as a sobering reminder of the importance of estate planning in blended families. With the increasing prevalence of step-siblings and complex family structures, it is crucial to ensure that estate plans are tailored to address the unique circumstances of each family.

At Harries Watkins Jones Wills & Probate our team of experts can assist with estate planning, Inheritance Tax planning and Will preparation.

Conclusion: Promoting harmony and fairness in inheritance cases

The Scarle v Scarle case has shed light on the complexities surrounding blended families and their entitlement to inheritance. Inheritance disputes among step-siblings can strain relationships and lead to lengthy and costly  legal battles.

However, by understanding the legal principles at play, engaging in open communication, and proper estate planning  can help ensure that the wishes of the deceased are respected and minimise future family legal disputes..

Contact us today to discus ways our team of experts can help.


The information provided is of a general nature. It is not a substitute for specific advice in your own circumstances. You are recommended to obtain specific professional advice from an appropriate professional before you take any action or refrain from action. Whilst we endeavour to use reasonable efforts to furnish accurate, complete, reliable, error free and up-to-date information, we do not warrant that it is such. We and our associates disclaim all warranties. The information can only provide an overview of the regulations in force at the date of publication, and no action should be taken without consulting the detailed legislation or seeking professional advice.

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