Landowners’ wills are still biased against daughters, but not as much

11 April 2011

Nearly half of Britain’s landowning families still follow the ancient tradition of leaving property to their sons rather than their daughters.

This was the finding of a survey carried out by accountancy firm Saffery Champness for Country Life magazine.

The custom is related to the common law right of primogeniture, a Norman practice under which the eldest son automatically inherited all land in the estate.

It was a principal theme of the recent TV period drama Downton Abbey, and also features in some of Anthony Trollope’s popular novels of the Victorian era.

However, Saffery Champness’ survey found that only one in seven of the UK’s largest landowning families still follow the rules of primogeniture. Sixty per cent were prepared to leave their estate to their daughters if they were thought suitable heirs. More than 42 per cent were planning to set up a legal mechanism to ensure their female children would inherit.

The changing custom is caused by several factors, according to Mike Harrison of Saffery’s landed estates & rural business group. One is that most landed estates are now “complex, multi-faceted businesses”, rather than consisting merely of a country house with an associated portfolio of forestry management and let land.

The (fairly) steady rise in agricultural land values over recent years has also played a part, says Harrison. So have longer life expectancies and the much-increased probability of divorce, as well as tax developments.




Country Life




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