Law on Intestacy to change?

The government put forward in the House of Lords this week, The Inheritance and Trustees’ Powers Bill

It aims to reform and simplify the distribution of the estate of someone who dies intestate (without making a will) in England and Wales. A surviving spouse (or civil partner) will automatically inherit the estate of an intestate person who dies childless. Where the deceased did have children, the estate is split between surviving spouse (civil partner) and children in defined shares, doing away with the antiquated life interest trust that currently exists.

The bill also includes measures to extend the jurisdiction of family provision claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 to cases in which the deceased was domiciled abroad. The 1975 Act as it stands does not allow such claims, applying only to deceased persons domiciled in England and Wales. A person may be resident in England but not necessarily domiciled here.

Claims can be made by any dependant who was ‘habitually resident’ in England or Wales. This, say the government, will be relatively simple test to apply in most cases. it does create the problem that English courts may be required to make orders affecting overseas property. This is bound to create difficulties with enforcement.

The government has decided not to proceed with another of the Law Commission’s recommendations, namely that an intestate person’s long-term cohabitant should be able to bring a 1975 Act claim on the estate. Under current law such a person can bring a claim as a dependent, but this provides for less generous provision that for a spouse.

Hopefully this relatively uncontroversial legislation will become law soon. Watch this space for further news.

Note this law only applies in England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland. do their own thing!

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