Bringing inheritance law up to date
The Law Commission is making recommendations today to bring inheritance law into line with the needs and expectations of modern families, and simplify the law to help the bereaved deal with the property of a deceased family member.
Every year tens of thousands of people die without a will. The property they leave behind is distributed according to legal rules that date back to 1925. More recent legislation allows certain family members and dependants who were not adequately provided for to go to court to claim “family provision”, whether or not there is a will.
The recommendations in the Commission’s report would update the law that determines the entitlements of spouses and others, and remove unnecessary obstacles to valid claims for family provision. The recommendations include reforms that would mean:
- When the deceased had no children, their spouse would inherit the whole estate. Currently, parents or siblings may also be entitled to a share.
- Complex and costly “life interest” trust arrangements, imposed on some spouses under the current law, where the deceased did leave children or other descendants, would be removed and a simpler form of sharing substituted.
- Children who suffer the death of a parent would no longer be at risk of losing their inheritance in the event that they are adopted.
The report also addresses the situation where one member of an unmarried couple dies. At present the survivor can inherit, but only by going to court. The Commission has concluded that some cohabitants should inherit if their partner dies without a will – but only if the couple had lived together for at least five years (or two years, if they had children together). They are distinct from our 2007 recommendations for clearer legal remedies for cohabitants who separate.
Professor Elizabeth Cooke, the Law Commissioner leading the project, said: “It is important to have clear, modern and fair rules for dealing with the property of a person who has died. The recommendations we present today follow extensive research and consultation on how the law of inheritance should operate in the 21st century. They would benefit many thousands of people at one of the most difficult times of their lives. At the same time, they preserve one of our important freedoms, namely the right to choose to whom we leave property by will, subject to a limited range of potential family provision claims.”
The Commission’s report, “Intestacy and Family Provision Claims on Death”, and a summary are published today on www.lawcom.gov.uk.
Notes for Editors
1. The Law Commission is a non-political independent body, set up by Parliament in 1965 to keep all the law of England and Wales under review, and to recommend reform where it is needed.
2. A summary of the Law Commission’s recommendations is attached to this press release and is subject to the same embargo. For more information about this project, visit www.lawcom.gov.uk
3. The Law Commission’s report, Cohabitation: the Financial Consequences of Relationship Breakdown (2007) Law Com No 307, makes recommendations that would permit court applications for financial remedies on the breakdown of qualifying cohabiting relationships. Awards would be based solely on contributions made to the relationship. Couples who wished to do so could opt out of the scheme. The Government has announced that these recommendations will not be taken forward in the current Parliament. That Law Commission’s response is available to download from the cohabitation project page of the Law Commission website, together with the report, a summary and the consultation documents.
4. For all press queries please contact:
Phil Hodgson, Head of External Relations 020 3334 0230
Jackie Samuel 020 3334 0216