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The Will Dispute team at Bell and Buxton Solicitors are often asked to advise people who find that they have not inherited what they thought they would from a parent or step-parent. More complicated family set-ups can mean that deciding how to make a Will is not always straightforward, and that not everyone will feel the result is fair.
Katie Winslow, an experienced contentious probate solicitor, explores a common scenario when it comes to step-children and inheritance.
Some of the most common situations that we see involve couples who have married later in life and both have children from previous relationships. Take the fictional Mr and Mrs A as an example: both have previously been divorced and they each have two adult children from their first marriages. When it comes to making their Wills, Mr and Mrs A think about how to balance their obligations to provide for each other with their wishes to ultimately see their children inherit. The solution they come to is a straightforward one: Mr and Mrs A each make a Will that leaves everything to the other, and which divides the survivor’s estate between all four children on their death.
Fast-forward a good few years to Mr A’s death. Because they decided to leave everything to each other, Mrs A is the sole beneficiary of Mr A’s Will and essentially everything that he owned becomes hers. As it stands, on Mrs A’s death the beneficiaries of her Will will be all four children, meaning that ultimately both “sides” of the family inherit.
However, as the years go on Mrs A’s circumstances change. She meets a new partner and as time goes by her relationship with Mr A’s children changes. At some stage she makes a new Will benefitting her new partner and her natural children, leaving Mr A’s children in for an unpleasant shock when Mrs A dies.
We receive a lot of enquiries from people who consider that they have been “disinherited” in this way and who want to know whether there is anything that they can do about it.
Our starting point in providing advice to Mr A’s children is that anyone is free to make a Will in whatever terms they choose. This is however subject to a number of provisos. Amongst other things, they must have had mental capacity to make the new Will and they must be free from undue influence. If the surrounding circumstances cast doubt on whether Mrs A was genuinely acting of her own free will, or whether she had mental capacity to make the new Will, then in appropriate cases we will advise regarding investigations that can lead to an application being made to declare Mrs A’s new Will invalid.
In certain circumstances, Mr A’s children might also be eligible to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. If they are eligible to make this claim then Mr A’s children can ask the court to make reasonable financial provision for them from Mrs A’s estate.
Not everyone will have grounds to challenge a Will that they consider to be unfair, but if you think you might need to pursue a claim - or if you are an executor or beneficiary of a Will that is being contested - then it is vital that you seek advice as early as possible as time limits can apply. If you need advice about any type of Will or inheritance dispute then our expert team will be happy to offer a no-obligation, free of charge initial consultation.