|Forfeiture Law Reform May Still Happen despite Government U-turn|
Reform of the law of succession in cases of forfeiture is now being attempted through a Private Member's Bill, after the Ministry of Justice withdrew the Civil Law Reform Bill containing similar provisions.
The Estates of Deceased Persons (Forfeiture Rule and Law of Succession) Bill is being introduced by Conservative MP Greg Knight.
At issue is the fate of a legacy when an heir cannot inherit because he has already died unmarried and under 18, or he has disclaimed the legacy, or he has forfeited it because he murdered the deceased. Under the current common law, any children of the disqualified heir are also disqualified from inheriting.
The bill seeks to alter this by requiring the deceased's property to be distributed as if the potential heir had died, rather than been disqualified through forfeiture.
This would also apply if the deceased had died intestate and the potential heir disclaimed any interest in the estate. But it would not apply where the potential heir had disclaimed a legacy explicitly left him in the deceased's will.
It is based on the Law Commission's conclusions following a public consultation issued in 2003. This followed a bizarre case (Re DWS deceased  Ch 568 EWCA) in which two grandparents were murdered by their only son. The grandparents were intestate, and the Appeal Court was reluctantly forced to decide that the law did not allow their grandson (the murderer's son) to take the property.
This outcome seems to be have been widely regarded as unfair and so it was decided that the law should be changed. The obvious objection to such a change - that some people might be tempted to murder their wealthy parents in order that their own children will inherit the family fortune - was dismissed by Mr. Knight as unlikely.
The Law Commission's conclusions were originally incorporated into the government's Civil Law Reform Bill. However this bill (which covered many other issues) was abandoned earlier in January 2011.
Mr. Knight's Bill was last week given an unopposed second reading in the House of Commons. It is supported by the Ministry of Justice, but even so there is no certainty that it will get enough parliamentary time to be passed this session.
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Published on our website on Feb.1, 2011