Tara McInnes: Beware the changes to inheritance laws

New legislation could have a negative effect on charities' legacy income in some cases, says the legal expert

Tara McInnes
Tara McInnes

On 1 October, the Inheritance and Trustees' Powers Act 2014 was introduced, changing The Inheritance (provision for family and dependents) Act 1975 and the intestacy rules.

Changes under the act increase the category of applicants who can claim against a deceased person's estate. Under the Inheritance Act 1975, applicants claiming that they were treated as a ‘child of the family’ had to be related to the deceased by marriage.  The latest act removes this obstacle, which means that claims can now be brought by the deceased partner’s children from a previous marriage - provided they can show that they were treated as a child of the family.

The act provides some clarification in relation to this group of applicants because in order to succeed in their claim they must demonstrate a degree of maintenance by the deceased prior to his or her death and show that the deceased had assumed responsibility for them.

While the changes made by the act may be good news for many, there is a downside that charities should be aware of. It is possible that the change to the existing Inheritance Act will result in a rise in claims against estates by applicants claiming they were treated as a child of the deceased before death.

If such claims are successful, then this will diminish the estate, affecting, in particular, charities that usually inherit from the residuary (remainder after everything has been paid) estate.

While charities can do little to deter applicants from bringing claims against a deceased’s estate, they can ensure that their legacy officers and managers are aware of the changes brought by the act and remain alert for guidance handed down by the courts.

The courts are, of course, alert to these changes and I anticipate they will adopt a hard line, especially in relation to claims made by fully able, adult applicants unrelated to the deceased. We will have to wait and see.

Tara McInnes is associate in the dispute resolution team at Gardner Leader solicitors.

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