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Estates of Deceased Persons (Forfeiture Rule and Law of Succession) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:00 am on 4th March 2011.

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Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee 10:00 am, 4th March 2011

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

This modest Bill seeks to amend the law of succession in England and Wales in three instances: first, where a person disclaims—that is, rejects—an inheritance, or secondly, where a person is disqualified from receiving an inheritance by virtue of the forfeiture rule. The rule is defined in section 1 of the Forfeiture Act 1982 as meaning the rule of public policy that, in certain circumstances, precludes a person who has unlawfully killed another from acquiring a benefit in consequence of the killing. Thirdly, the Bill addresses the anomaly in the present law whereby the children of a minor who is entitled to inherit an interest in the estate of an intestate person, but who dies unmarried and without entering a civil partnership before the age of 18, are unable to inherit their parent’s interest in that estate.

The Bill is not expected to impose any additional burden on the Consolidated Fund, and no change in the work load of any Government Department or agency is anticipated on its implementation.

Clause 3, as I said, corrects an anomaly in the law that discriminates against certain minor children. At present, children who are alive when their grandparent dies intestate will not inherit any share of their grandparent’s estate if their parent dies unmarried or uncivil-partnered before reaching the age of 18. Under my Bill, the children will be able to inherit their parent’s share. However, I wish to make it clear that the clause is narrow in its impact.

The minor grandchildren who will benefit are those who are alive—that includes any child en ventre sa mère—at the death of the intestate grandparent. I do not think the Bill is in any way ambiguous, but I wanted to place it on the record that the change in the law being made by clause 3 merely corrects an anomaly. It does not rewrite the policy of the statutory trusts, which limit beneficiaries to those alive at the date of death. Therefore, a child conceived after the death has no entitlement under the intestacy rules, and my Bill does not seek to alter that position. If it were to do so, it could create a new anomaly in attempting to resolve an existing one.

I am most grateful for the support that I have received from all parts of the House, particularly the courteous and helpful assistance that I have received from the Minister and his departmental team. I would like to mention a few people to whom I am most indebted: Mark Ormerod, the chief executive of the Law Commission; Joel Wolchover, who is also with the Law Commission; Paul Hughes and his team from the Ministry of Justice; Sarah Davies in the Public Bill Office; my hon. Friend the Minister; Robert Flello, who led for the Opposition thus far; Mr Slaughter, who is with us today in his stead; and my own researcher, Matthew Thomas. I am indebted to them all and I am grateful to the Justice Committee, which has indicated its support for the proposal.

The Bill is intended to make our law fairer by removing technicalities that run contrary to the general policy of the law of succession. It will allow direct descendants to inherit ahead of more distant relatives on intestacy. I commend the Bill to the House.