2016: A year in review
30 December 2016 by Andrea Godfrey
2016 has been labelled as the worst year for losing so many of our favourite and well-loved celebrities. It has also been a busy year for cases & new laws relevant to Wills & Probate.
January 2016 ( David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Sir Terry Wogan & Glenn Frey)
At the beginning of 2016, the Court of Appeal ruled on the case of Burns v Burns. Mrs. Eva Burns died in 2010. Arguments were raised regarding her capacity when she made her Will. The “Golden Rule” in the practice has been that evidence from a medical practitioner should be obtained so a solicitor is satisfied as to the capacity and understanding of the deceased. However, despite there being no such evidence, the Court ruled the Will as valid. The case demonstrates that any persons wanting to challenge a Will, needs very persuasive evidence that a person lacked capacity at the time the Will was made.
February 2016 – (George Kennedy & Harper Lee)
In February, the Central London County Court ruled on a case of “two households”. Norman had separated from his wife and had been in a relationship with Joy for over 18 years. However, he did not divorce or update his will to reflect his relationship. Because of the Will, all his estate, including his share of the house he owned with Joy, went to his estranged wife. The Court ruled that Joy should retain Norman’s half of the house when she brought a claim, for “reasonable financial provision”. The case highlighted the need to ensure Wills are updated on separation and couples who live together do not automatically have the same rights as a married couple or those in a civil partnership.
March 2016 (Nancy Reagan, Sir George Martin. Paul Daniels & Ronnie Corbett).
Judgement was given on the case of the £8 million Ming porcelain collection which belonged to Sir Michael Butler who was a trusted adviser to Margaret Thatcher. For the previous six years the younger children had been locked in a bitter legal dispute with their elder siblings to keep the collection as a whole in a private museum However, the High Court of Justice has ruled against this and it resulted in the collection being broken up with each sibling entitled to choose 125 pieces each
April 2016 (Victoria Wood & Prince & David Gest)
In April 2016, the case of Elliott v Simmonds and others came before the High Court. A daughter challenged the validity of her father’s will wherein he left his estate to his partner. The Court found that there were no reasonable grounds and ordered the daughter to pay both sides’ costs. The case highlighted that not in all cases will the costs be borne by the estate of the deceased and challenging a will where there are no reasonable grounds may lead to a very expensive costs order.
May 2016 (Jean-Claude Decaux & Carla Lane)
The Court of Appeal heard the unusual case of Randall v Randall. A husband had reached an agreement with his ex-wife during their divorce settlement, that if her mother left her any more than £100,000 in her will, she would share such excess with him. She did indeed inherit £100,000 but the remainder of her assets passed to her children. The husband applied to the High Court and challenging the validity of the will and the court had to find whether he had any standing to challenge. On appeal, the husband was considered a creditor and the creditor of a beneficiary had an interest in the deceased’s estate that gave him standing to challenge the validity of the will.
June 2016 (Muhammad Ali Anton Yelchin)
In June came Brexit. How this will influence the private client is yet to be seen! One of the potential areas that could be affected is taxation. Some of the UK taxation system has been amended so that it applies equally to assets in the EU (as well as in the UK). It will depend on the terms of Brexit as to whether the protection still exists and of course if not it will cause a different tax regime in relation to assets located in the EU.
July 2016 (Caroline Aherne)
The High Court had to decide on the case of Lewis v Warner. Stanley had lived with Audrey for many years in the house she owned. Her last will was never found but her daughter Lynn said the estate was left to her and at the time Stanley was 91 she tried to evict him and sought damages for trespass. Stanley made a claim stating that he did not want to benefit financially but he just did not want to move out. The County Court concluded that it was important that he should stay in the house, but as he had his own capital and this was not a case of financial need, on appeal the Order was upheld that he transfer £385,000 to Lynn in exchange.
August 2016 (Gene Wilder)
In August, we saw the Rio Olympics. Any medal-winning USA competitors previously had to report as income the cash prizes that are presented to them by the US Olympic Committee and pay the associated income tax. However, in August the Senate passed the ‘United State Appreciation for Olympians and Paralympians Act’. Under this bill, the medallists would no longer have to sacrifice any of their winnings
In September the House of Representatives passed the bill and made it law.
September 2016 (Alexis Arquette)
In September 2016 the final part of the Finance Act received Royal Assent and next year we see the introduction of the Residence Nil Rate Band (“RNRB”). The basic rules are that an estate will be entitled to the RNRB if the individual dies on or after 6 April 2017, owns a home (or a share of one) so that it’s included in their estate and that individual’s direct descendants (children or grandchildren) inherit the home or a share of it. The value of the estate can’t be more than £2 million.
October 2016 (Bobby Vee & Pete Burns)
In this month there was a landmark ruling which allowed a 14-year-old girl who has since died of cancer to become the first British child to have her body frozen in the hope that at some point in the future she will be brought back to life – a process called cryonic preservation. The case came before the High Court because her parents could not agree on what is to happen to her once she dies.
There is no legislation to cover such an application. The Judge made it clear in granting the Order that the Court were not considering whether the process had any scientific basis or making an order that the body be frozen – they were simply settling a dispute between the parents.
November 2016: (Andrew Sachs & Robert Vaughn)
In November the Court of Protection heard the case of Paul Briggs was who was a policeman but has been in a coma since he had a motorbike accident in July 2015. He was involved in a head-on collision with another motorist and suffered serious injuries which left him in a coma.
His wife Lindsey made an application to the Court of Protection for an order to be made that his life support be turned off and relied on his previous wishes. Pauls’ own doctors do not support the application because they say he has been diagnosed as being “in a minimally conscious state”. This week the Court have actually ruled on the matter and said that the life support can be turned off.
December 2016 (Zsa Zsa Gabor, Alan Thicke & Peter Vaughan)
Melita Jackson died in 2004 leaving an estate of around £486,000, and the majority she left to 3 charities. Melita had an only child, a daughter (Heather) for whom she made no provision in her Will. Heather had left home in the middle of the night when she was 17 to marry her childhood sweetheart. The Court awarded £50,000 (which they considered reasonable for maintenance). Heather appealed and the Court of Appeal re-instated the original order of £50,000 but referred the matter to the High Court to determine whether £50,000 was the correct amount to be awarded. In 2015 the Court increased the amount and awarded her £143,000. The three animal charities are fighting to preserve this and a test case was heard this month. The judgement is going to be crucial as it may very well state whether it is reasonable for parents to leave their assets to charities if they fail to make adequate provision for their children
Our friendly Wills team are available if you would like further advice, please contact us on 01206 700113 or email [email protected].
We will have to wait for 2017 to find out ………………