Nothing is certain but death and taxes

Mark Tilden returns to the theme of wills and discusses what happens in Cyprus if someone dies without making a will.

Firstly, a very happy and hopefully prosperous New Year to everyone who reads this. Let us hope that 2008 saw the worst of the credit crunch and that the world economy will start to recover a little this year. However, it is going to be a tough year and let us hope that we can all survive.

As the great American President Benjamin Franklin once said "In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes" and I make no apologies for returning once again to the theme of wills and the absolute necessity of making them and ensuring that what you assume will happen, will.

The laws here in Cyprus are very different to those in England relating to intestacy - i.e. what happens if someone dies without making a will.

In England, more often than not the marital home is owned in their joint names. This means that on the death of the husband or wife, the property will automatically pass to the surviving spouse, irrespective of whether the deceased left a will or not. At least the surviving spouse knows that they will have at the very least a roof over their head and not be worried about any inheritance issues in that respect.

However, here in Cyprus, nothing could be further from the truth.

If a British citizen dies here in Cyprus without a will, then the rules are as follows:

  • In respect of the deceased's moveable estate (ie. bank accounts, chattels, stocks and shares, etc) they are dealt with under the English rules of intestacy. The surviving spouse is entitled to the first £125,000, chattels in the house and then a life interest in half the residue - i.e. if the deceased left, say, an additional £100,000 in cash, investments etc then that sum is halved and he or she is entitled only to the interest earned on that sum - not very much. Of course, if the property was in the sole name of the deceased then the whole of the surviving spouse's inheritance could be more than swallowed up by the £125,000.
  • In respect of the property here in Cyprus, the position is far more dire. Property in Cyprus cannot be owned as "joint tenants" but only as what is effectively the English equivalent of "tenancy in common". Therefore if the property was purchased by husband and wife, on the death of one of them the property will not automatically go to the survivor, but it will pass to the deceased's relatives - children, brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, and even parents if still alive; they will each be entitled to realise their share.

So, as well as having to deal with the grief of a bereavement, the survivor may be faced with the prospect of losing their home as well.

Well, I hear you say, that may be true, but that won't happen to us, my family are all very strong and we would never let that happen. All I can say to that is, after having worked in the area of wills and probate in England for the last 20 years or so, if I had £1 for every time I had heard that, or had to tell people that nothing splits a family quicker than a death, then I and not a certain Russian billionaire would probably be the owner of Chelsea Football Club.

This is the time of year when we are all making our new years resolutions; if you are like me then most of them are broken by the end of the month. If you make only one resolution this year, please please please make it the resolution to make a will to ensure that those you love and care about so much are not left out in the cold.

STOP PRESS On 28 August 2008, the Ministry of Justice published its response to its consultation paper Administration of Estates - Review of the Statutory Legacy (CP(R) 11/05) and announced that the levels of the statutory legacy would be increased from £125,000 to £250,000 where the deceased leaves a surviving spouse or civil partner and children and from £200,000 to £450,000 in other cases. The department also announced that the actuarial tables for converting a surviving spouse's or civil partner's life interest on intestacy into a capital sum were to be updated.

About the author

George Coucounis

Mark Tilden holds a BA (Hons) Degree from the University of Winchester and a P.G.C.E. from the University of Cambridge. He passed his Law Society finals in 1991 and after two years articles in Bath he returned to Plymouth where his father had had his own law practice since 1958. In 2006 Mark disposed of the practice and now practices from Cyprus.

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