Acceptance of foreign property on behalf of a minor
Re AC (a child)  EWFC 90 was an unusual but helpful case demonstrating the breadth of the courts’ power to make orders touching on the exercise of parental responsibility for a child under the Children Act.
Here the child’s father died intestate owning a holiday home in Italy with his wife. Succession to the deceased’s share of the property was governed by Italian law. The forced heirship rules provided that the share passed as to one half to the widow and the other half to the child. The mother wanted to sell the property but as a first step she needed an order acceptable to the Italian court authorising her to accept the inheritance on behalf of the child.
The judge readily accepted that he had jurisdiction to deal with the application under Art 8.1 of Brussels II bis – the hearing was fortunately before the cut-off date – and that the authority to accept the inheritance was an exercise of parental responsibility under s3 of the Children Act. Peel J found that the mother had a clear responsibility to act in the child’s interest in relation to property to which he was entitled and a duty to take steps to receive or recover property for the benefit of the child. S.3 included authorising the mother to take steps to receive or recover property in the child’s own name, and not merely in the parent’s own name for the benefit of the child. A further order will be needed to authorise a sale of the property but Peel J rather suggested he thought such an order could also be made under the Children Act.
Our thoughts on the case
The UK court’s pragmatic approach to a common problem arising from forced heirship rules in other jurisdictions is to be welcomed. This is a developing area of law and we expect to see more decisions of this nature in the near future.