When are assets “UK assets”?

16 November 2021

In the recent case of Partington v Rossiter [2021] EWCA Civ 1564 the Court of Appeal found that a reference to “UK assets” in a will could, in certain circumstances, include Jersey assets. This may come as a surprise to anybody who has read Schedule 1 of the Interpretation Act 1978, which defines the United Kingdom as “Great Britain and Northern Ireland” (the “British Islands”, by contrast, do include the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man).

In this case, the testator would have been partially intestate if the reference to “UK assets” did not include assets situated in Jersey. This was significant because there is a long-established common law principle that wills should be interpreted in a way that avoids intestacy. There was also circumstantial evidence that the testator had intended for his UK will to govern his Jersey assets.

Three points are worth highlighting, as follows.

  • The Oxford English Dictionary definition of the “UK” does not and has never included the Channel Islands. Despite this, the Court of Appeal placed weight on two cases in which the definition of the “UK” did include the Channel Islands. It distinguished a third case which reached the opposite conclusion.
  • Although in practice it might be rare for a definition of “UK assets” in a will to be found to include assets situated in the Channel Islands, this is a timely reminder for practitioners to be precise when defining the scope of any will they draft.
  • Partington v Rossiter should not impact the interpretation of legislation more widely since the Interpretation Act 1978 definition of the United Kingdom will apply unless there is a contrary intention. However, when drafting documents, especially any relating to issues of UK tax, practitioners should still take care to be precise in order to avoid any potential interpretation issues.
Mr Rossiter's intention is beyond doubt. In the draft that he himself prepared he said on the one hand that it was only to deal with his UK property but, on the other hand, he intended to make specific legacies of his Jersey assets. The two are only rationally reconcilable on the basis that Mr Rossiter intended "the UK" to include Jersey.