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The increase in the number of so-called blended families, comprising different families that have been linked by new relationships, can complicate the process of inheritance and will-making, especially when beneficiaries are at loggerheads.
While the vast majority of people would always hope that their family members got along regardless, that is not always the case; especially when people’s relationships can change dramatically in the time between someone’s death and when their will was made.
Speaking on the subject to The Financial Times, Natasha Stourton, a partner in the trusts, estates and inheritance disputes team at law firm Withers Worldwide, said: “Choosing who will inherit your wealth and how much money they will get can be hard enough for even the simplest families. But when there are stepchildren involved as well as adoption and surrogacy issues, there are many more opportunities for conflict.”
In particular, legal professionals say they see issues arising when an individual chooses between leaving money to their spouse and to their children from a previous relationship, with potentially costly disputes arising between family members if they feel they have been treated unfairly.
In England and Wales, someone can leave assets in their will to whomever they wish, but other jurisdictions take a more strictly defined approach.
For example, countries such as Scotland and most European nations (including France, Spain and Germany) operate under the principle that a certain portion of an estate must be left to next of kin (spouse, children, parents) providing them with a guaranteed minimum level of protection of their inheritance.
Lilly Whale, a private client solicitor at law firm Goodman Derrick, told The Financial Times that English law can be a more flexible option for blended families. “Given the principle of testamentary freedom in England and Wales, a testator is, by law, free to leave their estate to their stepchildren if they so wish, without being obliged to provide for their blood children.”
However, she added that the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 provides a mechanism for a spouse, child or people treated as children or dependants to bring a claim against the deceased’s estate where they are left without reasonable financial provision.
“The claimant has to show that they were maintained by the deceased prior to their death either financially or in other ways, such as receiving frequent gifts from the deceased or living in the home rent-free,” Ms Whale added.