With divorce affecting 42% of couples in England and Wales, it won’t be a surprise that multi-family households or blended families are on the increase. Seeking proper legal advice when it comes to arranging wills for blended families is vital.
While multi-family households represent the smallest share of households, they are the fastest-growing household type over the last two decades, notes Trend Monitor, using data from the Office of National Statistics.
Scarle vs Scarle
A case in Essex highlights the problem.
In 2016 husband and wife Mr and Mrs Scarle were found dead at their Essex home. They were aged 79 and 69, respectively. Each had a child from a previous relationship.
As joint tenants, both owned the whole bungalow they lived in and had joint savings. They had not left a will.
In law, when a spouse dies and there is no will, the estate passes to the surviving spouse (and then to the children of the surviving spouse on their death, if there is still no will). Here, the order of death could not be established which led to a highly publicised court case in which both children claimed the right to the inheritance.
Under s.184 of the Law of Property Act 1925, where the order of death is uncertain, there is a presumption that death occurred in order of seniority. This means the older of the two is presumed to have died first.
As the claimant, Mr Scarle’s daughter was unable to prove sufficiently that this was not the case, the entire estate passed to Mrs Scarle’s daughter as Mrs Scarle was ten years younger than her husband.
It is not the purpose of this article to discuss the law in detail around the case, but it does illustrate the importance of making a will when you are a multi-family household.
Estate Planning and Wills for Blended Families
If you are married and die without a living will your spouse receive the first £250,000 of the estate? The remainder is divided between the spouse and your biological children. Your step-children receive nothing.
Even if you have a will it’s important you revisit the contents if your circumstances change, such as remarrying. For example, you may want to provide for a spouse and your children and remarrying revokes any will that is already in place.
When a loved one dies it is a stressful time and families can be divided over a lack of proper estate planning. Seeking proper advice from an experienced solicitor can help prevent unnecessary conflict.
Other considerations might be that a surviving spouse could change a will and the children of the predeceased spouse could be disinherited.
It is common to name a spouse as the main beneficiary and your children as the alternate beneficiaries. There is the belief that everything will go to your spouse and on their death, everything will go to your children.
But it is not necessarily the case.
Your spouse might outlive you for a long time. They might have a new relationship and make a new will that leaves everything to their children or a new partner. There is a good probability that they will lose touch with your children.
Without the proper safeguards in place, a surviving spouse is ideally within their legal rights to change their will and disinherit your children.
So, getting advice is crucial. As these solicitors in Chelmsford say “You can see that dying intestate (without making a will) can lead to very complex problems which can so easily be avoided by making a will.”
Wills for Blended Families
Understanding your options is important. That’s where an experienced specialist solicitor comes in.
Your will can be written so your children still inherit should you remarry. You can create a trust, where the estate is managed by appointed trustees on behalf of your children until they are of age. You could also create a mutual will with your partner. This cannot be changed without the consent of both partners.
The other side of the coin in not leaving a will is that if you are living with a partner and not married, your partner is not entitled to anything from your estate.
When it comes to blended families, you may wish to consider a ‘Life Interest Trust’. Here the home is placed into the trust and the person with the life interest could continue to live in the property and on their death the estate would be distributed in line with the wishes in the will.
It can be a good way to provide for a loved one while protecting your assets for future beneficiaries.
Your circumstances are unique. But if you’re living together and not married or have a blended family set-up, it’s vital that you get advice about leaving your estate to the people that you want. Ask questions about what could happen in the future.
It could prevent your children being disinherited.