Who? Alexa Payet, senior solicitor, Bolt Burdon, London.
Why is she in the news? The firm persuaded the High Court to grant a widow relief from forfeiture in relation to her late husband’s estate and assets. Sarah Ninian’s husband, Alex, was diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy and decided to end his life at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland. Mrs Ninian assisted her husband with administration required by Dignitas and accompanied him to the clinic where he ended his life.
Thoughts on the case: ‘The offence of assisting or encouraging suicide garners strong moral opinions but the potential financial consequences for families are often overlooked. Anyone who assists or encourages another to commit suicide forfeits his or her interest in the deceased’s estate and any jointly owned assets. This is known as the “forfeiture rule”. Only a court can modify its effect. There is no alternative to the process of applying for relief. A properly drafted application is essential.’
Dealing with the media: ‘Currently there is misunderstanding about these issues. If they are not dealt with the effect on the assister’s interests and assets may impact on the administration of the assister’s estate decades later. Working with the media has been key in raising awareness of these issues. However, somewhat alarmingly, even some of the legal commentators have misunderstood the law, claiming that the forfeiture rule was created by the Forfeiture Act. The forfeiture rule is a common law rule. The Forfeiture Act gives the court the power to modify the effect of the rule.’
Why become a lawyer: ‘I have always enjoyed representing the interests of vulnerable individuals. As a paralegal I acted for clients with mental health problems who were detained under the Mental Health Act. As a trainee I regularly acted for individuals who faced eviction from their homes. I soon discovered that I felt most satisfied when… I could have a meaningful impact on the lives of individuals.’
Career high: ‘Joining the contentious probate team at Bolt Burdon and realising that I can achieve anything I set my mind to and the firm will support me to attain my goals. We have proved that we are a force to be reckoned with and I feel privileged to be part of such an amazing team.’
Career low: ‘Working as a paralegal for a firm which did not respect its employees and considered them to be expendable.’