Having recently dealt with a 17-and-a-half-foot long family tree, identifying 73 potential heirs to an intestate estate, I am once again reminded of the importance of making a will, choosing who you wish to inherit your assets on your death.
Often people fail to make a will because they cannot decide upon who to benefit. As many charities face significant financial challenges due to shortfalls in funding caused by COVID-19, perhaps it is time to consider a charitable bequest, rather than risk the possibility of Jersey law on intestacy determining that relatives who may not have known of your existence, inherit your estate.
Benefiting a local charity is often preferred, so that the bequest is utilised for the good of our Island. The Charities (Jersey) Law 2014, much of which came into force on 6th March 2018 and the remainder on 1st January 2019, introduced the Jersey Charity Commissioner, whose role it is to administer and supervise the operation of the Law.
The Commissioner is required to perform his or her function in a way that, in so far as is reasonably practicable, protects public interest and confidence in charities registered under the Law. To register under the Law a charity must satisfy several requirements including, producing statements relating to the public benefit and charitable purposes of the charity, the names of the governors of the charity, financial information (including total income and expenditure, and the value of its assets), details of any payment made to a governor and details of any reportable matters as set out in the Law in respect of each governor (e.g. conduct issues). Once registered this information is publicly available. This goes some way towards alleviating public concerns of mis-management of charitable funds. When considering charitable bequest, you may therefore wish to make enquires as to whether your chosen charity is registered with the Jersey Charity Commissioner. A list of registered charities, including the information set out above, is available on the Jersey Charity Commissioner website.
To receive a gift of Jersey immovable property (e.g. freehold or flying freehold property) a charity must be an incorporated entity. Many smaller charities in Jersey are unincorporated and in those cases the members of the charity take personal responsibility for entering into contracts on behalf of the charity and for the debts of the charity. Charitable Trusts and Foundations are also unincorporated entities and may not own Jersey immovable property. An incorporated entity has a legal existence separate from and independent of its members. An incorporated charitable entity will typically either be an incorporated association registered under the Lois (1962 et 1963) sur les teneures en fidécommis et l’incorporation d’association or a limited company. Should you wish to benefit a charity in your will of immovable estate, it is imperative therefore that the charity is incorporated, otherwise the gift will fail and your immovable property will be inherited by your heirs-at-law, in the absence of any fall-back provision in your will.
Where a person dies without making a will relating to movable property (cash, investment, jewellery, household contents etc), their surviving spouse or civil partner inherits the household effects, £30,000 and half of the remainder of the estate. The issue of the deceased (children and failing that grandchildren etc) inherit the remainder. Where there is no spouse or civil partner, the issue inherit equally. Where there is no spouse, civil partner or issue, the inheritance is referred to as a collateral succession. The estate is inherited by the closest blood relatives identified in accordance with what is referred to as the civil (or Roman Law) method.
Where a person dies without making a will relating to immovable property, their spouse or civil partner inherits the life enjoyment of the matrimonial home (presuming that it was not owned jointly for the survivor of the couple) and an equal share in the remainder, with each of the issue. Where
there is no surviving spouse or civil partner, the issue inherit in equal shares. Where there is no surviving spouse, civil partner or issue (a collateral succession), who inherits is determined by whether the immovable property is what is known in Jersey Law as an acquêt or propre. Essentially an acquêt is property that the deceased purchased during their lifetime and a propre is inherited property. Different succession rules apply depending upon whether a propre is inherited from the maternal or paternal side of the family.
It is evident that Jersey law on intestacy is complicated and the application of its rules may result in unknown and potentially undesired outcomes. It is important to take professional advice on these matters. Including a charity in your will, either as primary beneficiary or a fall-back beneficiary in the event that your close family predecease you, may be a desirable option in many cases.