No one knows when death will come calling and it is equally a truism that, if you fail to make a professionally drafted will, you store up trouble for your loved ones after you are gone. As an unusual Family Court ruling showed, that is particularly so if you own property abroad.
The case concerned a father who owned a property in France, where he died without having made a will. In accordance with French succession law, the property passed in equal shares to his son and daughter. Difficulties arose, however, because the son was still a child and was habitually resident in England.
It was necessary under French law for the son to accept his succession to a half share in the property. However, as a matter of English law, his status as a minor meant that he was incapable of doing so. In those circumstances, his mother was constrained to apply to the Court for an order entitling her to accept the property inheritance on his behalf.
Granting the order sought, the Court was satisfied that her parental responsibility for her son, as defined by the Children Act 1989, extended to enabling her to act on his behalf in relation to the property. The order also entitled her to step into her son’s shoes and enter into a contract for the property’s sale.
The Court noted that the son’s welfare was the paramount consideration. However, he had supported his mother’s application in unequivocal terms and, he having reached the age of 17, his views commanded profound respect. A ready and willing buyer had been found for the property and its sale would yield a sum that could be used to fund the son’s university education or to explore other investment opportunities.