Update on The Inheritance. The finale.

Spoiler alert: As anticipated, poor Susan met her demise in the Inheritance during this week’s episode.

Where does that leave the children?

Despite Susan saying that she was happy for Denis’ children to inherit his estate, she did not execute a deed of variation or a settlement agreement to give effect to her intentions. Unbeknownst to Sian she may have been feeding information to Nathan, her estate agent lover, who had to act fast to prevent Susan from taking steps to execute the deed of variation in favour of the children. Susan’s estate will therefore pass to those who benefit from her estate by Will or intestacy.

Cue sinister music and enter the estate agent, Nathan, who turns out to be Susan and her former husband, Michael’s, estranged son, James who had been brought up in care and foster homes. It is understood that James will stand to inherit Susan’s estate, her former husband, Michael’s estate, and Denis’ estate.

We now know that both Denis and Susan were murdered by James for financial gain. Surely this shouldn’t be allowed to happen in a civilised society?

Thank goodness for Section 1 of the Forfeiture Act 1982 which will preclude James from acquiring any benefit, by way of an inheritance, from Susan’s estate as he was responsible for her murder (the “Forfeiture Rule”). The Rule will cover all scenarios including carrying out, or aiding, in murder or manslaughter, or assisting in the suicide, of a testator. All will preclude a beneficiary from being able to inherit from a testator’s estate.

Important points to note:

  1. The Courts have held that killing to inherit sooner does not need to be the intention of the killing for the Forfeiture Rule to apply; the benefit need only be a consequence of the killing.
  2. The Administration of Estates Act 1925 and the Wills Act 1837 were amended in 2011 to include the ‘deemed predecease rule’. This means that, if someone forfeits their inheritance under a Will, they are treated as having immediately predeceased the testator. Consequently, if the Will so provides, a murderer’s children would still be able to and will not suffer for the sins of their parent.

So, if James had any children, they may end up inheriting Susan’s Estate. If James had no children, then Susan’s Estate could pass to distant blood relations under the Intestacy Rules. A specialist genealogist may be required to trace distant family members.

One other consideration that is important in this case is that if the Executors of Denis’ Estate did not have house insurance – buildings and contents, there may not actually be any inheritance available for the beneficiaries. If the house was not insured, then any disappointed beneficiary will be seeking recourse for their loss from the Executor’s or Personal Representatives of the Estate. Executors and Personal Representatives can be personally liable if they fail to take steps to preserve estate assets.

This article was written by Sharon Bell, Legal Director. Sharon is based in the South East and works from our Sevenoaks office. For any enquiries, please contact Sharon or another member of our team on 01473 406386 or at disputeawill@birketts.co.uk.