I thought I had covered most of the ground. There is possibly one outstanding matter and that is the query by Senator Garret FitzGerald concerning the question of estate duty as it relates to life estates. This is a matter on which I cannot, naturally, make any comment. It is purely for the Minister for Finance within the context of a Finance Bill, but, as Senator FitzGerald has raised it here, I will bring it to his notice.
On the broader question so far as it affects this particular Bill, I should like to emphasise again that the question of accepting a life estate is a matter of choice for the beneficiary, or life tenant. Assuming it is the widow—as the situation has been advanced here—if she wishes to avail of the life estate to avoid estate duty, she can do so, provided she is happy with that particular form of disposition and provided the arrangement suits her in the particular circumstances of her case. It is not a matter for this Bill to say what should and should not be done by the widow in particular circumstances or by the surviving spouse in relation to a life estate. The ball is back in the beneficiary's court, as it were. If the life estate arrangement or some other arrangement has been worked out by the testator and his wife prior to the testator's death, then the wife can participate in that particular arrangement, be it an arrangement which evades duty, to the benefit of herself or her estate, or otherwise. Under this Bill there is no compulsion, there is nothing to force her to adopt any particular attitude. The freedom is hers and the choice is hers. It is the survivor's choice to avail of whatever arrangement was agreed upon or, even in some cases, not agreed upon. I am not envisaging the husband and wife getting together in every case. Even if they do not come together, if the testator makes an arrangement which suits the widow, she can adopt that particular course or not, as she chooses. It is for her to weigh the balance of advantage between that type of estate, if it involves a saving of estate duty, as against another type of estate which might give her a more firm security from the point of view of credit but might involve extra estate duty.
I am not competent to judge on the scales of estate duty. It is a very intricate matter involving various scales of payment, perhaps, upon different sources of estate. I am, however, aware as a matter of practice that one advantage of a life estate arrangement is that you avoid having to pay estate duty twice. If that is the arrangement that suits the widow in the particular circumstances, or if the testator enters into that arrangement prior to death, she can carry out that arrangement though it might not be the best possible from my point of view or the ideal form of holding. If they wish to enter into that arrangement to avoid or not pay as much estate duty as under some other arrangement, it is open to them to do so.
I want to emphasise this voluntary aspect of the Bill. At a very early stage it got off the ground in the wrong way. The impression went abroad to the public that there was this compulsory one third share and that that was that, that there could be no other arrangement you could make, that after death your widow must get one third if there were children and one half if there were no children, and there was no alternative. In fact, every alternative in the world is open to any testator or testatrix under the provisions of this Bill.
Again, I want to emphasise the fact that I envisaged—and I am certain that it will work out this way—that the legal right principle will be the very last resort to be used by the surviving spouse to prevent himself or herself being in any way victimised. It is only in that context that I see it working, as a weapon to be used or not to be used, as something in reserve which the widow knows she has and which everybody else concerned with the property knows too, to ensure fair play for her. It is in that connection that I see the scheme operated. It leaves wide open all the arrangements in the world from the point of view of legal and revenue aspects that a testator or a solicitor or an accountant can devise for the benefit of the estate.