For our last newsletter of the year we thought we’d take a look back over the past year for a roundup of developments and interesting news relating to succession law, trusts, and will writing.
- Heterosexual civil partnerships made legal
Last July the Supreme Court heard the case of Steinfeld and Keidan, a heterosexual couple who were deeply opposed to marriage and wished to form a civil partnership for the legal protection that a formally recognised relationship provides. The Supreme Court decided that England & Wales’s law only allowing homosexual couples to enter civil partnerships was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
As of 2nd December 2019, legislation has come into force allowing heterosexual couples to form civil partnerships. This has a minor effect on will writing, as it means that all couples may now include a clause in their will stating that it is being made in contemplation of civil partnership. The wider effect will of course be the IHT benefits of civil partnership (identical to those of marriage) now being open to more couples.
- Probate fee hike scuppered again
For the second year in a row there was an attempt to increase probate fees. The fee structure was due to change to a tiered structure based on estate value from 1 April 2019. Earlier this year, a week before the change was due to be implemented, it was announced that the increase would not be going ahead this year. The statutory instrument that would have introduced the new fees missed its deadline to be laid before Parliament. It’s safe to assume that the probate fee increase will happen though, so this is certainly one to keep an eye out for next year.
- A move towards opt-out organ donation
The Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill received royal assent this year. This change means that those who die domiciled in England from Spring 2020 will be deemed to be organ donors unless they have opted out in lifetime. This is a reversal of our current opt-in system.
When discussing funeral and organ donation wishes when taking instructions this is something new you will need to raise as many people may not be aware of the change and wish to clearly opt out.
- A collection of interesting probate and undue influence cases made headlines
It has been a very interesting year for contentious probate. This year we’ve seen everything from forfeiture to proprietary estoppel, and one very interesting undue influence case that included a vary rare challenge on the grounds of fraudulent calumny.
- The second half of the Office of Tax Simplification’s report was released
The Office of Tax Simplification finally released their second report this summer. This report made plenty of recommendations on ways of simplifying IHT rules on lifetime gifts, interactions with CGT, and businesses and farms. Recommendations centered around rolling the many lifetime gift allowances into one larger relief to help the general publics understanding of IHT.
Unfortunately, no recommendations were made on the RNRB and downsizing provisions despite their admission that it is a complex area that is poorly understood. Shockingly the report even found that some solicitors opt not to advise on the RNRB because it is too complicated! Hopefully this is an area that the OTS will look at again in future.