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Update to Jersey's law on the probate offence of intermeddling

28 July 2023

Jersey financial organisations are being encouraged to review their policies ahead of an update to the law on the probate offence of intermeddling. 

Since 1998, it has been an offence in Jersey, punishable by way of fine or imprisonment (for a term not exceeding 12 months) (or both) to intermeddle in the estate of a deceased person; that is to take possession of, or in any way administer, any part of the movable estate sited in Jersey with a value exceeding £10,000 of a deceased non-Jersey domiciled person without first obtaining a grant of representation (either a grant of probate or letters of administration) from the Royal Court of Jersey (a "Grant").  Jersey banks have been subject to hefty fines where they have been found to have intermeddled: on which see our earlier news piece: Intermeddling - Second bank fined for contravention of Probate Law.

The de minimus of £10,000, which was prescribed by the Probate (Jersey) Law 1998 (the "Probate Law"), now 25 years old, is finally being updated to £30,000.  This means that Jersey banks and other financial organisations may release deceased estate with a value up to £30,000 to an applicant that appears to be entitled to receive it either under the deceased's will or the laws of the deceased's domicile.  The applicant must provide such documents, information or security as the bank may require proving their entitlement.  Additional conditions in the update to the Probate Law are that there must be no caveat in force on the estate and the applicant must declare that they acknowledge that the bank is not liable for that estate once it has released it.

Providing that the deceased's estate is released in good faith and in accordance with the updated Probate Law, the bank is protected from any action by the estate of the deceased or any beneficiary of it, but the bank must on demand provide details and an explanation of their action in releasing the estate.

Consideration will need to be given to the de minimus that Jersey banks and other financial organisations will be willing to apply to their deceased clients' estates.  In bringing forward the update to the Probate Law, the Jersey Government noted that whilst the de minimus in England and Wales is £50,000, most banks and other financial organisations in that jurisdiction set themselves lower limits; the average limit set by such financial organisations is £26,900. 

At £30,000, the update to the de minimus in the Probate Law is high and goes beyond the current buying power of £10,000 from 25 years ago; the Bank of England online inflation calculator tells us that £10,000 in 1998 could buy goods and services costing approximately £18,500 in 2023.  It is not obligatory to release estate up to £30,000 without a Grant and, depending on their risk appetite, banks and other organisations may decide to apply a lower de minimus

The update to the Probate Law is welcome for reducing complexity and cost to bereaved families where the Jersey estate value is relatively low and reducing the caseload of the Probate Division of the Royal Court. However, Jersey banks and other financial organisations will now need to review their internal procedures to ensure that they are ready to meet the additional conditions imposed on the release of small estates without a Grant and consider the risks that they are prepared to accept. 

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