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Discretion applied allowing inheritance after death by careless driving

Reasons to choose Wilson Browne

The Forfeiture Act 1982 is not often used but this important law precludes a person who has unlawfully killed another from acquiring a benefit in consequence of the killing.

In other words, it can be used to stop someone who has killed another from inheriting under their Will or the laws of intestacy.  The Act does provide Courts with a discretion to waive forfeiture, and in recent years this has been relevant in “Dignitas” scenarios where a loving spouse or partner has assisted in arrangements for travel abroad to end a life.

Where criminal offences are concerned, the Forfeiture Act 1982 came into force when there were only two types of unlawful killing: murder and manslaughter.

In a recent case, however, the Court has had to consider the application of the Forfeiture Act 1982 in the context of a road traffic accident and the far newer offence of “causing death by careless driving” which was created by the Road Safety Act 2006.

The case involved a challenge to a Will by the daughter of the late Royston Amos.  Barbara Mancini was Mr Amos’ daughter from his first marriage.  In January 2019 Mr Amos was in a car driven by his wife travelling fro their home in Wales to Canterbury when Mrs Amos drove into the back of a queue of stationary vehicles.  Royston Amos died in hospital later the same day and his wife Sandra Amos was charged with the causing his death by careless driving.  She pleaded guilty at the first opportunity and received a suspended prison sentence.

Under the terms of Royston Amos’ Will, Sandra stood to inherit his share of their jointly owned matrimonial home by way of survivorship provisions and his Will left her his entire residuary Estate.

Barbara Manciii argued that the Forfeiture Act 1982 should be applied.  If successful, Ms Mancini and other family members who were joined to the case stood to inherit the Estate in place of Mrs Amos.

On behalf of Mrs Amos it was put to the Court that whilst she admitted that her offence amounted to unlawful killing for the purposes of the 1982 Act, it should not attract the forfeiture rule, because it had not been deliberate or intentional.

HHJ Jarman indicated that he did not consider that there was any reason for Mrs Amos’ offence to be treated any differently from manslaughter for forfeiture purposes. He went on, though, to look at the circumstances of the offence including the fact that Mrs Amos had had to drive for an unexpectedly long period. He also noted that the two potential beneficiaries of the Estate were not pursuing any claim against Mrs Amos for the death.

On balance HHJ Jarman concluded that if Mrs Amos had to forfeit her inheritance it would be “significantly out of proportion” to her culpability.  On this basis discretion under the Forfeiture Act 1982 was to be exercised and Mrs Amos was free to inherit.

This case shows the complex nature of the issues a Court can be asked to consider when looking at the Forfeiture Act provisions – and that whilst some cases will of course be clear cut (a domestic violence murder for example) the nuances of situations which lead to a death may call more and more for consideration by the Court before an inheritance is to be approved or forfeited.