With blended families on the rise, so are inheritance rows. Blended families are those where people have multiple marriages and children with different partners, meaning step-parents, stepchildren, divorced parents and siblings with large age gaps are all part of the family setup.
These disputes are on the rise. In 2020 there were 192 cases taken to the High Court by individuals claiming to be entitled to part of an estate. This was up 50% from the 128 heard just 2 years previously. This is tipped to increase, with around half of UK parents planning to treat children unequally in their wills.
There used to be a taboo on questioning wills but that genie is out of the bottle, especially with more complex families where there may be animosity.
While the law in England and Wales means you can do whatever you want with your estate, the 1975 Inheritance Act gives a lifeboat to those cut from a will. The act allows spouses, former spouses who have not remarried, cohabitees, children and stepchildren, to claim that the estate has failed to provide adequately for them. It prioritises the spouse, who just needs to argue the will does not give them a reasonable amount.
For a stepchild to win a claim, they have to have been treated as a child by the deceased in their lifetime, so adults whose parents remarry are unlikely to be successful. Both children and stepchildren also have to prove they need the money. The act is not about fairness, but more about ensuring someone is not left financially stranded. Unfortunately for some, this can mean that one child may win a claim because they are less financially secure, but their sibling may lose.
In short, if you are part of an extended family with a number of potential beneficiaries, it is vital to think about how how affairs will be managed when you die. The first step to minimising trouble is to write a proper will and for even more robust planning you may want to consider a trust.
To avoid disputes, talk about your will before you die. Lawyers say most disputes stem from people being shocked when the will is revealed, and because they only have 6 months to contest it, claims are often knee-jerk. You should also leave a letter of wishes explaining why you have decided to distribute your estate this way. It should reduce the chance of disputes.