A woman who caused her husband’s death through careless driving has won the right to inherit his estate.
The case involved 74-year-old Sandra Anna Amos. In 2019, Mrs Amos and her 81-year-old husband Royston had set off by car from their home in Wales to attend a funeral in Canterbury.
On the way home they got lost. After they had been driving for about 10 hours, and when it was raining and starting to get dark, they were involved in a collision. Mrs Amos failed to brake when approaching a line of queueing traffic. She lost consciousness and was subsequently unable to remember why she did not stop.
Royston was killed. In his will, he left his estate, which largely comprised the matrimonial home, to his wife. If she did not survive him, there were other beneficiaries who were relatives.
Mrs Amos pleaded guilty to causing death through careless driving.
The forfeiture rule set out in the Forfeiture Act 1982 would normally prevent a person benefiting from an “unlawful killing”. This meant Mrs Amos would not be able to inherit in line with her husbands’ will.
She sought a declaration as to whether the forfeiture rule applied to her. If the rule applied, she asked the court to modify its effect to allow her to inherit. She accepted that the offence of causing death by careless driving amounted to “unlawful killing”. However, she submitted that the Act contained the phrase “in certain circumstances,” which meant that the rule did not apply to every instance of unlawful killing, and that it should not apply to her situation.
The three other beneficiaries of the will did not contest her claim.
The High Court ruled that the rule did apply to her. However, it also held that the rule could be modified if there was sufficient justification, as in this case.
The collision had taken place in the rain and the dark after Mrs Amos had been driving for a very long time. She pleaded guilty at the first opportunity and didn’t try to play down her part.
So far as the matrimonial home was concerned, Mrs Amos and her husband had bought it in their joint names; it had been dilapidated and they had both worked to turn it into their dream home; and each intended that, when they died, the survivor would become entitled to it.
It was significant that the alternative beneficiaries had not contested the claim. In the circumstances, it would be unjust for the forfeiture rule to apply; the loss to Mrs Amos would be significantly out of proportion to her culpability, and justice required that the rule be modified.
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