A month on since the last episode of Channel 5 The Inheritance aired, which you can still stream on catch up, we reflect on the nail-biting end where Daniel, Sian and Chloe watched their intended inheritance, their family home, burn up in flames. The action crammed plot involved twists and turns, murder allegations and a disputed will straining relationships and turning family members against one another. The intense finale left viewers pondering ‘surely there is a second series?!’ and this article explores just that and what could be in store for Daniel, Sian and Chloe and their inheritance. Needless to say, potential spoilers ahead…
The Inheritance – Season 1
As far as Daniel, Sian and Chloe understood, their late father had made a will leaving his assets (forming his estate) to themselves in equal shares. To their horror, their late father had, in fact, remarried without telling them and had, in turn, made a new will, which left his entire estate to his new wife, Susan, thus disinheriting Daniel, Sian and Chloe. This comes as an enormous shock to the three siblings who seemingly struggle to grapple with the reality of the situation that Susan is set to inherit everything their father owned, including the home they grew up in as children. Contemplating the options available to them, Daniel, Sian and Chloe instruct a solicitor who, after glancing at the will (and notably carrying out no due diligence, we must add!) declared the will, inheriting Susan, valid.
After unexpected revelations, veiled threats and honest conversations, Susan agrees to vary Dennis’ will and allow for Dennis’ estate to be distributed equally between Daniel, Sian and Chloe, as their late father and Susan’s now deceased husband had intended in his original will. Not only is this variation set to take place within two years of Dennis’ death (which was, no doubt, thanks to some sound off-camera legal advice on the benefits from a tax perspective of varying a will within the two year period post death) but it offers a welcome relief for the three siblings, especially Daniel who found himself owing a nasty loan shark a ton of money. Then, disaster strikes! Just before the paperwork is signed to vary the will and benefit the three siblings, Susan is killed in suspicious circumstances and the inheritance that she was about to hand over now forms part of her estate and is legally hers, meaning her next of kin (in the absence of a will) are set to inherit Daniel, Sian and Chloe’s father’s fortune.
It is revealed that Susan was murdered by her estranged son, Nathan, who, as things stood, would have been set to inherit from Susan’s estate. Amongst other sinister plans, Nathan’s villainous plot of revenge included killing Daniel, Sian and Chloe by setting alite to their late father’s home to prevent them from exposing the fact that Nathan had murdered Susan. With the siblings hopelessly caught in this fiery blaze and with no apparent way of escape, Nathan was caught by the police in the nick of time. Nathan is arrested and Daniel, Sian and Chloe are rescued from the house fire. The series ends with Daniel, Sian and Chloe watching their family home ablaze but at least in the comfort that the antagonist is caught, and they will still be able to inherit their father’s money…or will they?
The Inheritance – Season 2
So, are we in for another action-packed second series? Possibly not. The reality is that the combined estate of Dennis and Susan, and the main asset of their joint estate, is in flames, and I am sure all prudent viewers were thinking the same thing: ‘I hope there is suitable insurance in place and that Nathan was sensible enough to notify the home insurers of Susan’s death so that the insurance policy was varied to that of an unoccupied nature and was not deemed invalidated’. However, assuming all insurance admin was taken care of by Daniel, Sian and Chloe (or their attempted murderer), the question on how Susan’s estate will be distributed and to who remains unanswered.
Daniel, Sian and Chloe are now left in a situation where their late father’s estate has passed to Susan and, before Susan could vary his will to benefit his three children, she died. So, what happens now? The starting point (assuming Dennis’ estate successfully passed to Susan) would be to look at any will that Susan might have had in place. It seems unlikely that Susan would have made any provision for her estranged stepchildren who did not approve of her relationship with Dennis when they later found out about it. Also, even in a situation where Susan had died without a will (where she had died ‘intestate’ in legal terms), the siblings would still be left with an uphill struggle as stepchildren and stepfamilies generally are not covered by the provisions of the Administration of Estates Act 1925, which governs the order of inheritance when someone dies intestate and without a will. Indeed, spouses, children, parents, siblings, half-siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins of Susan would all have priority over Daniel, Sian and Chloe. So, what options would they have?
Daniel, Sian and Chloe could argue that it would be inequitable for Susan’s estate to be distributed without their consideration, given the promises and assurances that they had received from Susan that she would vary Dennis’ will. Whilst this could form the basis for what is known as a Promissory Estoppel claim, they would need to demonstrate the following circumstances took place:
- That a promise or assurance was made to the siblings by Susan;
- That the siblings relied upon that promise or assurance;
- That the siblings suffered some sort of detriment as a result; and
- That the circumstances of the promise and reliance led to an unfair result;
Even if the above circumstances were fulfilled, the siblings have a long list of potential beneficiaries (listed above) who would want to see hard evidence before they agree to give away their soon incoming or recently received inheritance. As such, estoppel claims can be notoriously difficult to prove. Susan’s agreement to vary the will was verbal, and with Susan having been killed, further evidence from her is impossible. The siblings would need to consider if there is any other evidence to illustrate Susan’s intentions. For example, had she spoken to anyone about the variation and, if so, who? Are there any independent witnesses who could support the siblings’ claim? Did Susan instruct solicitors to draft a Deed of Variation? In any event, it is had to see how the siblings sufficiently acted to their detriment given that they were given such short notice of Susan’s change of heart.
The siblings would have a better chance making a claim against Dennis’ estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. The siblings would (individually) need to argue that they were not provided for such reasonable financial provision as is necessary for their maintenance under their father’s will. Claims under the 1975 Act are, however, fact sensitive but, given that neither of the siblings were financially secure, their prospects of a successful claim may be greater than their claim against Susan’s estate and this could, therefore, be a stronger argument for their solicitor to pursue.
In any event, the siblings seem to be in a worse predicament than the series would let on. Usually, claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 need to be made within six months of the date of the grant of representation issued by the Probate Registry. As such, the siblings need to take urgent legal advice to best position them for a financially secure future.
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