Testamentary Freedom and Family Protection in Scotland
39 Pages Posted: 6 Nov 2018
Date Written: October 29, 2018
In a sense, testators in Scotland are free to do as they please, for a will is not challengeable on the ground of having failed to provide for children, or a spouse, or some other relative. Yet, regardless of what a will says or does not say, a child or spouse of the deceased is entitled to a fixed share of the deceased’s estate. Since 1964 this has been confined to the deceased’s movable estate and there is no claim in respect of immovable property. Where a deceased is survived by both spouse and children, the movable estate is divided into three – one-third for the spouse, one-third to be shared among the children, and one-third to be disposed of in accordance with the will. Where only a spouse, or only children, survive, the division is into two equal parts and not three. These ‘legal rights’ of the children and surviving spouse are personal rights against the executor of the deceased and are satisfied by payment in money.
This paper considers the history of legal rights in Scotland, their scope and calculation, the rules on discharge, the requirement to collate lifetime advances, and the requirement to choose between legal rights and an express bequest in the will.
Legal rights are of medieval origin, and have survived various attempts to change them. In recent years, the position of children has been seen as especially controversial. On one view, children should have merely a maintenance claim from the deceased’s estate, in cases of proved need. On another view, a child’s position in the family should continue to be recognised by means of a fixed share in their late parent’s estate. In the absence of consensus on this issue, the Scottish Government has recently rejected a package of reforms proposed by the Scottish Law Commission. Uncertain as to what the future should hold, Scotland has chosen to stick with rules developed, unthinkingly, in the distant past.
Keywords: Law of succession, Scotland, testamentary freedom, family protection, forced heirship, disinheritance, legal history
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation