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Wills & Estate planning changes coming into effect soon

View profile for Alison Short
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The law about wills and administering the estates of those who have died is not the sort of thing that wins elections so seldom gets updated but there are some interesting changes which have yet to come into effect.

  • At present there is no system in England and Wales (though there is in Scotland and Northern Ireland) for sorting things out when a person goes missing. In addition to the personal trauma it is often next to impossible for a family to obtain a death certificate however long the person has been missing and even if they believe them to be dead. In future it will be possible to make an application to a Court for a presumption of death for all purposes, including their marriage, the administration of their estate, benefit entitlements and so on.
  • There is a better deal for the surviving spouse when a person dies without a will. However it is better still to make one!
  • An adopted child retains some rights to assets in the estate of a natural parent. Otherwise the general rule is that the adoptive family replaces the previous family for all purposes.
  • English law works on the basis that if you know what you are doing you can do what you like in your will. That contrasts with the position in Europe where you must leave at least some assets to your children. However in England certain people can claim against the estate of someone who has died if they think they are not or inadequately provided for. Those who can claim are broadly who you would expect – spouse partner dependent and so on. Child had always included any child treated as a child in the family unit of the person who has died. It will now include a child of any other family in which the person who has died had a ‘parental role’, potentially a much wider group.