An increase to the statutory legacy amount granted to spouses and civil partners under the rules of intestacy was announced in the House of Commons in January.
There had been widespread speculation that the government might fail to keep its promise to update intestacy rules every five years as an update was due last October, but, as of February 6 the amount will be £270,000 – a £20,000 rise.
The increase, which keeps statutory legacy amounts in line with the Consumer Price Index, means that a surviving spouse or civil partner will now stand to inherit all of a deceased’s personal property, as well as the first £270,000 of their sole estate in the event of intestacy. In the event there are children, the remainder of the estate will be split 50/50 between the children and the surviving spouse.
Fifty, or even thirty years ago, if you had asked a school classroom to draw a picture of the typical British family, chances are the pupils would have drawn a picture of a husband and wife and one or two children. Yes, statistically it is likely that there would have been a few single-parent families in the representations, but ideas of the nuclear, heteronormative family were, back then, entrenched and largely unchallenged.
Today, more and more children belong to families made up of single parents, co-habiting parents, same-sex couples, step-families, and mixed families living across different households. Inevitably, the changing structure of "family" has had to be recognised in family and probate law and, on occasion, makes the related legal processes more challenging.
The Central County Court contentious probate decision in Blyth v Estate of Charles Caudle has shown the importance of having a convincing body of evidence when contesting a Will, particularly if the claim is being brought in estoppel.
Lloyds Bank is in hot water over an embarrassing failure to disclose the Wills of 9,000 deceased customers, a bungle which has – in a probate solicitor’s worst nightmare – led to hundreds of estates potentially being distributed incorrectly.
The Wills were stored as part of the bank’s now defunct “safe custody” service for Wills. In an attempt to seemingly downplay the error, Lloyds has said that the “vast majority” of estates concerned were unaffected, either because the stored Will had been superseded by a new document or because a duplicate had been successfully stored in another location.
It is a sign of great trust to be named the executor of an estate in a Will, but it is also an onerous responsibility that not everyone will have the time and the energy to fulfil. The reality is that even the most organised and time-rich of individuals will find the assistance of a professional probate solicitor helpful.
If you are to accept the role of executor, it is vital that you first understand the full ramifications of the position and the inherent responsibilities. This should begin with understanding that executor responsibilities commence almost at the point of death; although registering the death is not the executor’s responsibility per se, in many instances it does become so.