Shane Phelan: Pot gets smaller as society changes
Published 25/04/2016 | 02:30
Our courts recognise that close relatives have a reasonable expectation of receiving an inheritance.
Irish law has a number of protections to ensure that spouses and children who are written out of wills can still claim an entitlement to inheritance, even if the deceased person wished otherwise.
Under the 1965 Succession Act, spouses are automatically entitled to at least one-third of an estate if there are children and half if there aren't.
Section 117 of that act allows children who believe a parent failed in their moral duty to provide for them, to apply to the courts for a cut of the estate or an increased portion. But society is changing, with research indicating that the tradition of passing down a substantial inheritance is declining.
There are several factors driving this trend.
People are living longer, with life expectancy now 10 years more than it was in 1966.
Fortunes were lost when the property bubble burst and many people no longer have their nest egg.
Many are using their lifelong earnings to support themselves in old age.
More and more elderly people are releasing the equity in their homes to support themselves rather than ensuring there is a property to hand down.
The Law Reform Commission has recognised that inheritance laws may have to change to keep pace with such developments.
It is to be commended for starting a discussion on the issue and will invite submissions before making recommendations to the Oireachtas.
It is specifically looking at Section 117 and whether it is fit for the society we live in today.
The commission has not expressed any view on whether changes are needed.
But it has set out the reasons why expectations regarding inheritance may need to be tempered in future.
Whatever the outcome of the deliberations, one thing seems certain. Inheritances will continue to shrink.