Following a consultation in December 2009, the Government has decided not to proceed with the draft Civil Law Reform Bill, which, amongst other things, included changes to the law of succession where an inheritance was forfeited or disclaimed.
Although the Bill’s proposals on this issue were generally supported by respondents to the consultation and the Justice Committee, the Government has decided to defer any changes, pending the outcome of the Estates of Deceased Persons (Forfeiture Rule and Law of Succession) Bill, a Private Member’s Bill that is currently before Parliament and which proposes the majority of the reforms on the law of succession contained in the Civil Law Reform Bill.
The proposals in the Civil Law Reform Bill sought to amend the law of succession so that where a person was disqualified or refused an inheritance, his or her heirs were not disinherited. The Bill intended to reform the law governing the distribution of estates of deceased persons in three areas; that is whereby:
1. An inheritance is disclaimed (i.e. rejected);
2. An inheritance is forfeited (i.e. where a person has killed another person and is disqualified by the forfeiture rule from inheriting property from his or her victim); and
3. A person loses (but not forfeits or disclaims) a benefit on intestacy by dying under the age of eighteen and without having married or formed a civil partnership.
Under current common law, any children of a disqualified heir are also disqualified from inheriting. The Law Commission, after conducting its own consultation on the issue in 2003, deemed this situation to be unfair and its proposals for change were incorporated into the Civil Law Reform Bill. To back its call for change, the Law Commission cited the Court of Appeal’s 2001 ruling in Re DWS deceased, in which two grandparents, who were murdered by their only son, died intestate (i.e. without leaving a valid will) and the Court reluctantly held that the law did not allow their grandson (the murderer’s son) to inherit the property whilst the son (the murderer) was still alive.
The Estates of Deceased Persons (Forfeiture Rule and Law of Succession) Bill seeks to change the law by allowing the deceased’s property to be distributed as if the potential heir had died, rather than been disqualified through forfeiture. It also addresses the current situation whereby the children of a minor, who is entitled to inherit an interest in the estate of an intestate person but who dies unmarried and without entering a civil partnership before the age of eighteen, are unable to inherit their parent’s interest in that estate.
Although the Bill is supported by the Ministry of Justice, Private Member’s Bills are not usually allocated enough parliamentary time to be debated and, thus, become law. Consequently, even with the Ministry of Justice’s backing, there is no guarantee that the Bill will become law.