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Law Commission publishes proposed intestacy law reforms

Fri 16 Dec 2011

The Law Commission (LC) has published new recommendations for reforms of the law governing family provision claims when a person dies intestate.

Intestacy rules dictate how money and other assets owned by people who die without a valid will are distributed among surviving family members.

Under the LC's proposed Inheritance and Trustees' Powers Bill, the law will be changed so that the estate of a person who is married or in a civil partnership is passed on to the surviving spouse if there are no other descendants or children.

The reforms would also amend the rules that currently leave unmarried fathers at a disadvantage when a child dies intestate, the commission explained.

Other amendments include the removal of "arbitrary obstacles" faced by dependants of the deceased and those treated as a child outside a civil partnership or marriage.

The draft Inheritance (Cohabitants) Bill, meanwhile, features additional provisions allowing some unmarried partners to inherit on each others' death if they have lived together for at least five years.

Tim Snaith, a solicitor in Winckworth Sherwood's private client department, commented: "The current intestacy rules are regarded by many as outdated and complex and the Law Commission's proposals, if enacted, go some way to updating and simplifying the system.

"However, the introduction of additional rights for co-habiting couples represents a significant shift in the landscape, which could lead to considerable difficulties of interpretation and possible litigation - and in the view of some observers would further undermine the institution of marriage. Without financial education, such changes will continue to result in issues for the family and dependants of the thousands of people that die without a will.

"These changes will in the short term bring a welcome spot light on the matter of intestacy and estate planning. However, they overlook the wider necessity of education to encourage individuals to take personal responsibility for their own estate planning through a properly drafted will."

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