The current worldwide issue relating to coronavirus has led to a surge in people wishing to create or amend their Will. While a sharp spike in mortality rates and lockdown measures mean that the usual structure of services following a death are not necessarily all in place.
Fortunately, for clients of those law firms already embracing digital technologies and remote working systems, there should be only minimal disruption. As long as homes continue to be served with power, broadband and telephone lines, solicitors should be able to carry on largely as normal and clients should be able to receive most aspects of the usual Wills and probate legal service. Many Wills and probate solicitors are able to take instruction over the phone and via video conferencing facilities, and there are many methods available for safe handling of sensitive documents.
It was as odd as it was anomalous that for some time heterosexual couples did not have the same legal right to civil partnerships as their same-sex counterparts did under the Civil Partnerships Act 2004. In fact, alongside numerous campaigners, the oddity was recognised by leading gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, who went so far as to call it discriminatory.
However, the law has now changed, meaning that heterosexual couples who do not wish to enter into a marriage are now able to undertake a civil partnership which affords them near legal equality with married couples without any of the religious or patriarchal connotations.
The 'Litigation and Dispute Resolution' departments of full service legal practices in the UK will, almost universally, provide Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) services or at the very least they will be able to facilitate access to trained mediators.
ADR has been used in the UK for many years and particularly since 1999 when the Woolf reforms gave rise to the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR). The CPR identified principles that aimed to make civil litigation quicker, fairer, more cost-effective and less adversarial for all clients, whether they be commercial clients or private individuals.
It is now expected that parties to a dispute, including Will disputes and contested probate, will attend at least one ADR session. Parties who refuse may find themselves sanctioned by the court with additional costs.
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.