The owners of an ancestral estate in the South of England have been granted approval to amend the rules which govern their family trust so that any future gay descendants are not unfairly disadvantaged.
The Pemberton family, who have been the owners of Trumpington Hall since the 18th century, believe that they had a “moral obligation” to change the inheritance rules.
The amendments will now mean that rights will be in place for any future member of the family in a same-sex marriage or civil partnership.
Judge David Hodge, sitting at the High Court, approved the changes to the family trust, telling the court that the Pembertons “agree the changes are in the interest of their immediate family and the wider Pemberton family and give it their approval”. The court was advised that the amendment was not prompted by specific concerns that any living heirs would be excluded.
The High Court heard from the Pemberton’s lawyers that the family had recently considered the "financial, ethical and moral issues which can arise with settlements relating to substantial family wealth" and had come up with proposed changes to the family trust.
One of those changes was the "extension of the definition of spouse" in regard to inheritance rights over the property to include "any civil partner or spouse in a same sex marriage".
Judge Hodge said the present form of the family trust was "much in the style of a 19th century dynastic family settlement" which "does not include civil partners or spouses under same sex marriages.”
"The trust is in need of a much needed overhaul," he told the court. "The proposed variation will be for the benefit of the family as a whole and therefore of benefit to each individual member."
The amendment to the family trust now allows for gay partners to have a life interest in Trumpington Hall following the deaths of their spouses. Judge Hodge said: "These classes of beneficiary will be included after the variation, although there is no beneficiary of those classes in existence at this time."
Lee McClellan, a partner and expert in estate planning and trusts, said: “It is highly unusual to change a trust in this way. Thankfully, for most of us, the worries of a centuries’ old family trust is not an issue we will ever need to lose sleep over. However, this case does highlight the fact that we should all regularly review legal estate planning documents such as Wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney to ensure that they keep pace, not only with changing personal and financial circumstances but also with changing legislation.” For further information on estate planning, please contact us.