The new decade has ushered in a plethora of proposed new law that could have huge implications for couples and families.

A total of 84 private members’ bills are currently making their way through parliament. This article highlights those that are likely to have the largest impact in relation to Private Client matters.

Increase in the Statutory Legal on Intestacy

The “statutory legacy” is the sum to which a surviving spouse or civil partner is entitled when the deceased died intestate (without having made a valid will) and leaves a spouse or civil partner and children. In those circumstances, the statutory legacy to the surviving spouse or civil partner is the first payment made out of deceased’s estate. The balance is then divided into two halves, with the surviving spouse or civil partner receiving one half, and the other half then passes equally between the surviving children of the deceased.

The Inheritance and Trustees’ Powers Act 2014 set out a mandatory period under which a new fixed net sum for the statutory legacy should be set.

The last statutory legacy rate was set on 11 October 2014 at £250,000. This will be increased to £270,000 from 6 February 2020.

Civil Partnership (Opposite-Sex Couples) Regulations 2019

The end of last year saw the enactment of the Civil Partnership (Opposite-Sex Couples) Regulations 2019 which extended civil partnerships to heterosexual couples. These regulations allow opposite-sex couples to form a civil partnership, extending the protections afforded to same-sex civil partnerships regarding rights and benefits, such as parental rights, financial entitlements, and tax reliefs.

As couples are required to provide a minimum of 28 days’ notice of a civil partnership. The first opposite-sex civil partnerships took place on New Year’s Day.

Cohabitation Rights Bill

Despite the new legislation about civil partnerships, many couples are still choosing to cohabit without making a legal commitment. In February 2020, the House of Lords will discuss the proposed Cohabitation Rights Bill. This bill aims to provide increased protection for those who live together as a couple as cohabitants.

If the bill is successfully passed, it will offer more legal protection concerning property where a deceased cohabitant is survived by their partner. It will also give former cohabitants the right to apply to the court for a financial settlement order when a cohabiting relationship breaks down. It is envisaged that the bill will enable the courts to adjust the financial position of qualifying cohabitants on relationship breakdown, so as to spread the financial consequences, benefits and costs fairly between them.

Assisted Dying Bill and Right To Die At Home Bill

In 2014, Lord Falconer proposed the proposed Assisted Dying Bill, designed to allow terminally ill, mentally competent adults to have an assisted death after being approved by two doctors. Two opposition amendments aiming to derail the bill were defeated in 2015, but then the General Election took precedence and the bill lapsed before it could be fully scrutinised by Parliament.

This month, Lord Falconer will be reintroducing  a reformed version of the bill in the hope of making it legal to assist a terminally ill person in ending their life without facing the threat of prosecution.

Similarly, Lord Warner’s Right To Die At Home Bill will make provision for any eligible person resident in the UK to have an effective right to die at home, or at the place that the person regards as home, as opposed to the sterile and unfamiliar hospital environment. This bill was read in July 2019 but delayed in the proroguing of Parliament. The bill will be discussed again at the end of January 2020.

by Jane Whitfield

Further reading

What is a Lasting Power of Attorney?

Appointing a Guardian

Selling a Property using a Power of Attorney or a Deputyship Order

Massive hike in probate court fees condemned as “stealth” taxes


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