23rd March 2010

Jersey rewrites its inheritance laws

Prior to 2010, Jersey women got a raw deal when their spouses died, being entitled in law to only a third of their husband’s estate. Husbands, on the other hand, who are widowed when their wives die first, were entitled to everything their wife owned. Unsurprisingly, there were many who suggested this was in conflict with European human rights legislation. That was never put to the test as the law was rewritten to avoid any trouble, but it was certainly unfair either way.

The potential conflict was brought to light by the Jersey Community Relations Trust, which wrote a report for the States analysing the situation. The law, as it stood, made a distinction between viduité and dower. The former was the man’s right to inherit all of the wife’s possessions. The latter was the wife’s far meaner right to just a third of her husband’s estate.

Two possible solutions

The States could have brought the two into line by applying viduité to both parties, but decided instead to apply dower, maintaining the wife’s current position but reducing the husband’s inheritance rights so that he, too, only inherited a third of his wife’s estate by automatic function of law.

The Jersey Community Relations Trust was also concerned that children were being penalised if their parents were unmarried. Speaking to the BBC, Dr Elena Moran revealed that more than a third of children in Jersey are born to unmarried parents each year, and they were not entitled to any automatic inheritance – unlike those whose parents were married. In large part this was due to the Legitimacy (Jersey) Law 1973 which stated that an illegitimate child only had rights of succession in relation to its mother, not its father. Not only would it not be able to inherit from its father; it would also not be able to inherit from its grandparents.

The inequality was obvious and the concern that it was conflicting with European legislation was justifiable. Having debated and agreed that a change was required, the States said that it planned to put the necessary legislation into force before the end of the year.


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