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Law Commission to review Inheritance rules

On 29 October 2009 the Law Commission released a public consultation seeking to bring inheritance law up to date to meet the needs and expectations of modern families. The Law Commission is a non-political independent body which was 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. The consultation addresses the laws of intestacy and those relating to making a claim on an estate where provisions have not been made within a Will. The Law Commission state that the consultation paper, Intestacy and Family Provision Claims in Death, examines options for reforming the rules to safeguard the position of bereaved spouses while taking into account the concerns of children and other relatives of the deceased. Where the deceased did not leave children or other descendants it is proposed that the surviving spouse should inherit the whole estate. In the more complex situation where there are surviving dependents the Law Commission is seeking views from consultees on a series of options for reform which are detailed within the paper itself. Some of the proposals would bring significant changes to the law, others are more technical and would rectify current problems or simplify the process of administering a deceased’s estate The Law Commission also wants to extend the protection of the intestacy rules to unmarried partners who have lived together for a period of time or who have a child together. Under the current law they may have to go to court to claim reasonable provision from a partner’s estate which may involve great financial and emotional cost. The proposed reforms would bring English law into line with public attitudes and with the law in other Commonwealth countries. Their proposals are that a cohabiting couple who have lived together for five years should have the same rights under the intestacy rules as spouses. They also suggest that those who have lived together for more than two years, but less than five, should be entitled to half the share of the estate that a spouse would receive. Other proposed reforms would improve the rights of children who are adopted after the death of a parent and would end the unequal treatment of half brothers and sisters in inheritance law. The Commissioner leading the project, Professor Elizabeth Cooke, has stated; When a family member dies the process of grieving and of adjustment to change can be made far worse by uncertainty and anxiety about money or belongings. It is vital that the law remains relevant and up to date, reflecting the reality of modern society and reasonable expectations of those who have been bereaved.

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