Downton Abbey is proving to be a fascinating insight into the world of inheritance and estate planning, with a series of unfortunate incidents befalling the family along the way. And the Legal Profession are delighted to be playing such a prominent role! Not since the heady days of LA Law or Ally McBeal has a show had so many unlikely legal twists.
To recap, the “country solicitor” cousin Matthew was the unwelcome heir to the Grantham estate in Series 1, and following his acceptance into the family, he then unhelpfully decided to drive recklessly and die. Solicitors the length and breadth of the country recoiled in disgust as it appeared he had not made a Will (call yourself a solicitor?) only for a document to be found shortly thereafter which was confirmed to be a valid Will (scribbling a letter, asking clients to witness it and then storing it within the pages of a book is not best practice though!).
This does nothing to address the real problem though as to who will pay the death duties triggered by the untimely death of cousin Matthew. Whilst current tax rules allow you to leave your estate to your spouse free of tax, these allowances were not available in the era of Downton.
Mary is in mourning (and struggling to come to terms with having to think for herself), but Edith is supporting her new love interest whilst he searches for a jurisdiction that will grant him a divorce. Although this may seem far-fetched, it is still sometimes very sensible to choose a jurisdiction outside the UK to file for divorce, particularly where there are finances to be agreed (the apportionment can be very different in Jersey to the UK).
So what plot lines may we see next? Wrongful dismissal claims by Moseley, the valet, for a failure to consider a broader redundancy pool? Assault charges against Lady Rose for the fight in the bar? Possibly a charge of manslaughter for the death of poor cousin Matthew? One thing is for sure – Downton is bringing the English Legal System back to the forefront of national television, and long may it last!
Leanne is a Chartered Tax Adviser, specializing in advising on UK tax matters but also including overseas tax as needed. Leanne is head of Taxation Services at EHL Solicitors in Leicester.
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