You may at some point in your life be fortunate enough to inherit property in Jersey. Great, easy-peasy, just hand over the keys and I'll be on my way. Actually it's not quite that simple.
In Jersey there are two ways to inherit immovable property (land and houses): either you are left them in a will or you inherit as an heir. Either way there are some important considerations you should be aware of, particularly if the will includes life enjoyment or time-limited enjoyment granted to a third party.
The following example demonstrates some of the issues involved:
Imagine your favourite uncle has passed away, leaving you his rather smart farmhouse complete with orchard and a couple of acres. You cannot move in to the place because he has also given enjoyment of it to his mother-in-law, Delores. This sort of arrangement is often granted as life enjoyment, but in our example let's say that she has been granted enjoyment for just five years. You may or may not know this woman, you may or may not like her, but both you and she have certain responsibilities whilst she lives there.
- Delores must act as a 'prudent householder' – she must keep the interior of the property in a good state of repair, must pay occupiers rates and buildings insurance. You as the owner must carry out structural repairs so the house doesn't fall down around Delores' ears.
- You can demand an annual inspection of the interior, and if she really has let the place deteriorate significantly you can even ask the Royal Court to terminate the enjoyment, but you must nominate an agent to act on your behalf; you are not allowed to carry out the inspection yourself.
- You can sell the property, but Delores will still be entitled to her five years' enjoyment, so this will probably put off prospective buyers. Delores can walk out before her five years are up, but only if she has left everything in a good state of repair.
- The law does allow you and Delores to come to a financial arrangement whereby you buy her out of her enjoyment of the property, typically using actuaries to calculate a fair price.
As you might imagine, this sort of arrangement has caused a lot of argument over the years, and there is plenty of case law around what you and Delores can and cannot do, particularly with regard to the land that comes with the property. She can draw benefits from the land, but not damage or change the nature of it, so in our example she can keep the apples, but cannot chop down the trees or replace the orchard with a swimming pool. If she has planted crops but has to leave before they are harvested, then legally they belong to you. Similarly, if she has been renting out the house or land, then this lease terminates when her enjoyment finishes.
It may be stating the obvious but it is strongly recommended, if you inherit property over which someone else has a right of enjoyment, you take legal advice so that you know your rights and obligations.
As originally appeared in Places magazine, October 2012
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.