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Modernisation of Jersey’s inheritance laws

Wills and Succession Law (Jersey) 1993 has been updated granting the same inheritance rights to civil partners as heterosexual married couples whether or not there is a Will

There have been two significant amendments to the Jersey law on succession in recent times. Under the Civil Partnership (Jersey) Law 2012, which came into force on 2nd April 2012, an amendment was made to the Wills and Succession Law (Jersey) 1993 granting the same inheritance rights to civil partners as heterosexual married couples whether or not there is a Will. This includes the right of dower where there is a will relating to freehold property. These changes reflect a significant modernisation of Jersey inheritance law.

Surprisingly, there also still existed inequality between husbands and wives in terms of their rights of succession to each other’s immovable property where there is a Will, in the form of Dower and Viduité.

Dower is the right of the widow to the life enjoyment of one third of her deceased husband’s real or immovable property (essentially freehold property), where he has left a Will.

The corresponding (although more generous) right of the widower was called Viduité, which is his right to a life enjoyment of the whole of his deceased’s wife’s immovable property where she left a Will. In this situation, there must have been a child of the marriage.

On 1st January 2014 the law was amended plus the right of dower was extended so that it becomes a right enjoyed not only by widows, but also widowers, both sexes, plus also civil partners also enjoy the same right and upon the same terms. In addition the right of Viduité was abolished and the  requirement for a marriage to be consummated in order to claim dower was also abolished. Both spouses and civil partners are now treated equally

Many old Jersey houses have an annexe to the main house called a dower wing. This annexe was often about half the size of the main house, that is to say a third of the whole, and was built specifically for the purpose of providing a home for the widow in the event that the need arose.

There is one condition of dower which also however relates to those who have been given the life interest of a property in a will, and that is the obligation to maintain the property (or in the case of dower, one third of the property).

It is thought that this obligation will apply to all those who receive a right of dower.  During their lifetime it is therefore likely that they must keep the property allotted to them, insured and in a good state of repair and decoration and must not cause any deterioration to take place. In the event that they fail to do so, those who inherit the remainder of the property (the revisionary owners) may carry out such work as is necessary and seek the recovery of the costs involved in so doing.

This article is intended for information only and is not a substitute for legal advice.

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