The recent conviction of 66 year-old Penelope Jackson in the killing of her husband David following a row over a birthday meal is shocking both on the circumstances that led to the murder and the ages of those involved.
According to reports, Mrs Jackson stabbed her husband with a kitchen knife after a row over her serving bubble and squeak with a gourmet meal bought for them by her daughter as a birthday gift. Mr Jackson called police during the attack and his wife stabbed him again during that call.
Penelope Jackson was last week sentenced to life in prison and told she must serve a minimum term of 18 years.
Typically, married couples make “mirror” Wills – Wills that leave the bulk of their estate to the other and then, on the death of the second of them, benefit wider family members. So in the case of the Jacksons, could Penelope Jackson inherit her late husband’s Estate if that is what his Will provides for?
The Forfeiture Act 1982 is rarely used but it provides important protection for those who want to stop someone who has unlawfully killed another from taking a benefit as a result of that killing. The Act gives the Court a power to stop someone found guilty of murder or manslaughter from inheriting under a Will or the laws on intestacy.
In recent years the Courts have exercised their discretion to waive forfeiture in cases where a loving spouse or partner has assisted in arrangements for a person to travel abroad to end their life at, for example, a Dignitas clinic.
There have also been cases where the full effect of the Forfeiture Act 1982 have been applied and the person responsible for the death has forfeited what would otherwise have been their entitlement to an Estate.
The Forfeiture Act 1982 was brought into law when only manslaughter and murder were being considered. Since then the Road Safety Act 2006 introduced the newer offence of “causing death by careless driving”. This has led to a more complex and nuanced look by the Courts at the implications of imposing forfeiture in an Estate.
In the 2020 case Amos v Mancini & Ors the Court had to consider complex issues of liability. The case involved the Will of the late Royston Amos. His daughter Barbara Mancini (from his first marriage) argued that his wife Sandra Amos should be subject to the provisions of the Forfeiture Act 1982 after she admitted causing her husband Royston’s death by careless driving when she collided with the back of a queue of stationary vehicles. Mrs Amos pleaded guilty at the first opportunity and was given a suspended prison sentence.
Royston Amos’ Will left his residuary Estate to Sandra Amos and she also stood to receive his share of their jointly owned matrimonial home under survivorship provisions.
Barbara Mancini argued that the Forfeiture Act should be applied. On behalf of Mrs Amos it was argued that whilst her actions amounted to unlawful killing for the purposes of the Forfeiture Act 1982, her actions had not been deliberate or intentional and therefore the rule should not be applied.
The Court expressed the view that there was no reason to treat the offence of causing death by careless driving in any different way to those of manslaughter or murder. On the particular facts of that case though – including that Mrs Amos had unexpectedly had to drive for a long period of time on the day of the incident and that no claim was being pursued against her for the death by other beneficiaries – the Court exercised its discretion to allow Mrs Amos to inherit. On balance, HHJ Jarman concluded that it would be “significantly out of proportion” to Mrs Amos’ culpability if she had to forfeit her inheritance.
The case of Penelope Jackson would surely provide the Court with fewer complex considerations but the provisions of the Forfeiture Act 1982 are nevertheless an important protection in law.
Jennifer Laskey, Director at Howes Percival and a specialist in contentious probate disputes comments
“When someone is killed the implications for wider family can be vast. This is even more so where the person who has caused the death is themselves a family member.
Ensuring that the benefit of a person’s Estate does not fall into the hands of someone responsible for their death is thankfully not something the Courts have to deal with every day but the importance of this protection for families cannot be underestimated.
Taking early legal advice will always be the best idea as it can provide some peace of mind and a plan of the way forward for those who are grieving in the most shocking of circumstances.”
For more information, please contact a member of our Contentious Trust and Probate team.
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