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Where does love go when it dies?

13 Feb 2018

It was the veterans of the power balled, Def Leppard, who asked the question in 1996, ‘Where does love go when it dies?’

The sentiments of the song come to mind in a very tragic, but legally very complex, case involving the rules relating to the forfeiture of inheritance when the person who made the Will is murdered.

The case centred round Mr and Mrs Thompson, a married couple in their 80s who were devoted to each other and had no children. Mr and Mrs Thompson had agreed that, when their ‘normal lives’ had ended they did not want to continue on this mortal coil.

Sadly, at the age of 88 Mrs Thompson was suffering from advanced dementia, at which time Mr Thompson, aged 84, had been diagnosed with a fatal heart complaint and terminal cancer.

It was at this juncture that Mr Thompson sedated and suffocated his wife before taking his own life. Prior to the act, Mr Thompson left notes explaining the couples’ prior decision to not carry on in such a state, and confessing his actions in relation to the death of his wife and his subsequent suicide.

Although analogous to a suicide pact, due to Mrs Thompson’s lack of capacity at this time, Mr Thompson’s actions would have been viewed as murder had he lived.

In such circumstances, the law states that a murderer cannot benefit from the estate of their victim.

This proved to be important due to the terms of Mr and Mrs Thompson’s Wills. Mrs Thompson left everything to her husband, but if he did not survive her then to charity and friends. Mr Thompson left his estate to the same charity and friends if he were to survive his wife.

The application of the forfeiture rules meant that Mr Thompson was deemed to have died before his wife. All of his estate therefore passed to her.

However, due to the unorthodox wording of Mrs Thompson’s Will, the substitute provisions leaving her estate to charity and friends did not apply, and as such it was deemed that she died without a Will. The application of the Intestacy Rules resulted in Mrs Thompson’s estate passing to distant relatives with whom she had no contact during her lifetime.

Richard Marshall

The charity therefore applied to Court to ask them to use their discretion under the forfeiture rules to remove the effect of the rules in the circumstances. Based on a number of factors specific to the case, the Court in this instance agreed to alter the effect of the forfeiture rules so that Mrs Thompson’s estate passed to Mr Thompson. In turn, Mr Thompson estate passed to the charity and friends whom both Mr and Mrs Thompson had intended to benefit.

There are few instances where the legal complexities of a case mirror the tragic life circumstances of those involved. It brings us full circle to consider another poignant  question posed by Def Leppard in their 1996 power ballad: “could you ever take a life when all was lost, and would it ever be enough”.

At Hay & Kilner our special team of solicitors deal with all aspects of life and death matters, from the preparation of Wills, questions of capacity and powers of attorney, the administration of estates (often referred to as Probate) and the creation and administration of Trusts.

For help and advice in such matters please contact Alison Hall or Alice Clewes, partners in our Private Client Team, or call 0191 232 8345.