800 years of Magna Carta. Big Deal! What’s its relevance for succession lawyers?

 
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This has been a hobby horse of mine for some years. Finally, in 2015, I get to ride it! 2015, of course, marks the 800th anniversary of the first Magna Carta. This was a document that created the foundation for our laws and government. Now I’m, principally, a succession lawyer. Sure Magna Carta is relevant for criminal law, evidence, fair trials and the like. But what’s the position with succession law? Take these examples:

Clauses 4 and 5 create fiduciary duties for guardians looking after the interest of minors (ie those under 18 years).

Clause 7 creates the right to survivorship (whereby jointly owned property is automatically inherited by the surviving person on the death of the other joint owner).

Clauses 2, 3, 10, 11, 26 and 27 recognise rights of inheritance )ie whose entitled to your property on your death).

Clauses 30 and 31 entrench property rights (ie ownership of assets that you purchased, inherited, created and the like).

So, how will you be celebrating 15 June 2015, Magna Carta day, the day when the document was first signed in 1215 (which is probably the most momentous day in legal history)?

So, how will you be celebrating 15 June 2015, Magna Carta day, the day when the document was first signed in 1215 (which is probably the most momentous day in legal history)?

 

A modern translation of the relevant clauses (written in Latin in the idiom of 1215) follows:

 

Clauses 4 and 5 say this: (4) The guardian of the land of an heir who is under age shall take from it only reasonable revenues, customary dues, and feudal services. He shall do this without destruction or damage to men or property. If we have given the guardianship of the land to a sheriff, or to any person answerable to us for the revenues, and he commits destruction or damage, we will exact compensation from him, and the land shall be entrusted to two worthy and prudent men of the same ‘fee’, who shall be answerable to us for the revenues, or to the person to whom we have assigned them. If we have given or sold to anyone the guardianship of such land, and he causes destruction or damage, he shall lose the guardianship of it, and it shall be handed over to two worthy and prudent men of the same ‘fee’, who shall be similarly answerable to us. (5) For so long as a guardian has guardianship of such land, he shall maintain the houses, parks, fish preserves, ponds, mills, and everything else pertaining to it, from the revenues of the land itself. When the heir comes of age, he shall restore the whole land to him, stocked with plough teams and such implements of husbandry as the season demands and the revenues from the land can reasonably bear.

 

Clause 7 says: (7) At her husband’s death, a widow may have her marriage portion and inheritance at once and without trouble. She shall pay nothing for her dower, marriage portion, or any inheritance that she and her husband held jointly on the day of his death. She may remain in her husband’s house for forty days after his death, and within this period her dower shall be assigned to her.

 

Clauses 2,3,10,11,26 and 27 are: (2) If any earl, baron, or other person that holds lands directly of the Crown, for military service, shall die, and at his death his heir shall be of full age and owe a ‘relief’, the heir shall have his inheritance on payment of the ancient scale of ‘relief’. That is to say, the heir or heirs of an earl shall pay £100 for the entire earl’s barony, the heir or heirs of a knight 100s. at most for the entire knight’s ‘fee’, and any man that owes less shall pay less, in accordance with the ancient usage of ‘fees’. (3) But if the heir of such a person is under age and a ward, when he comes of age he shall have his inheritance without ‘relief’ or fine..… * (10) If anyone who has borrowed a sum of money from Jews dies before the debt has been repaid, his heir shall pay no interest on the debt for so long as he remains under age, irrespective of whom he holds his lands. If such a debt falls into the hands of the Crown, it will take nothing except the principal sum specified in the bond. * (11) If a man dies owing money to Jews, his wife may have her dower and pay nothing towards the debt from it. If he leaves children that are under age, their needs may also be provided for on a scale appropriate to the size of his holding of lands. The debt is to be paid out of the residue, reserving the service due to his feudal lords. Debts owed to persons other than Jews are to be dealt with similarly..… (26) If at the death of a man who holds a lay ‘fee’ of the Crown, a sheriff or royal official produces royal letters patent of summons for a debt due to the Crown, it shall be lawful for them to seize and list movable goods found in the lay ‘fee’ of the dead man to the value of the debt, as assessed by worthy men. Nothing shall be removed until the whole debt is paid, when the residue shall be given over to the executors to carry out the dead man’s will. If no debt is due to the Crown, all the movable goods shall be regarded as the property of the dead man, except the reasonable shares of his wife and children. * (27) If a free man dies intestate, his movable goods are to be distributed by his next-of-kin and friends, under the supervision of the Church. The rights of his debtors are to be preserved.

 

Clauses 30 and 31 provide: (30) No sheriff, royal official, or other person shall take horses or carts for transport from any free man, without his consent. (31) Neither we nor any royal official will take wood for our castle, or for any other purpose, without the consent of the owner.

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