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Inheritance

Background

Under Jersey law, the right to inherit property is affected by factors such as legitimacy and whether you are a widow or a widower.

For example:

  • Until recently, an illegitimate child had a right to inherit from the estate of their mother but not the father.
  • A widow has a right of dower or life enjoyment of one third of her deceased husband's immovable property. A widower has a claim of viduité or life enjoyment of all of the deceased wife's immovable property.

The absurdity of the current laws is demonstrated by the following example.

A man has two brothers. He never marries, but lives with his partner for more than twenty years. Together they have a daughter who is severely disabled. The partner gives up work to become a full time carer for their daughter. The father dies without making a will. The whole of his estate will devolve to his brothers. The partner has no right to inherit because they were not married and the inheritance laws give no rights to dependants. The daughter has no right to inherit because she is illegitimate.

History of campaign

2001

The Legislation Committee presented a report to the States on succession rights. This report recommended that;

  • The laws of succession should be repealed so as to allow any person freely to dispose of moveable estate subject to the right of the court to provide a proper sum out of the estate for the maintenance and support of the dependants of the deceased
  • There should be no difference in treatment between legitimate and illegitimate children of the deceased which could be could be contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights.

2009

January
In response to a written question, the Chief Minister told the States that proposed changes to the inheritance laws were with the Legislation Advisory Panel.

Six months later no changes had been made.

October
In light of the continued failure of the States to rectify the problems with the succession laws, the Trust commissioned Professor Meryl Thomas of Birmingham City University to report on whether the existing laws were human rights compliant.

The report concluded that the current succession laws violate Convention rights in several respects.

Click here to read a copy of Professor Thomas' report.

The Trust then wrote to the Legislation Advisory Panel presenting them with the findings from Professor Thomas' report and asked them to confirm that the Panel would make certain that legislation was brought forward within three months that would ensure that the Island’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights were complied with.

2010

March
The panel decided to concentrate on the area of difference that exists between legitimate and illegitimate children. On the 23 March 2010, an amendment to the Wills and Succession (Jersey) Law 1993 was approved by the States of Jersey.

The Trust was extremely pleased to see that the legislation regarding changes to the succession laws in relation to illegitimate children was approved by the assembly.

More needs to be done

The difference in treatment between widows and widowers rights over each other’s estates remains unequal.

The Trust will continue to push for this matter to be brought forward.
 

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