If you’ve had writing a Will on your to do list for some time, why not make 2023 the year you check it off? Wills are hugely important legal documents that can make things a great deal easier for loved ones who are left behind after a death.
We recommend that all adults write a Will long in advance of when they think they might need one. However, it’s particularly important to write a Will if:
- You own property.
- You have assets overseas.
- You have a complex financial situation.
- You have children, especially if they’re under eighteen and would require a legal guardian.
- You’re going through a divorce.
- You don’t have a typical family set up.
To understand why it’s so vital to make sure you have an up-to-date Will in certain family situations, it’s important to understand what happens when someone dies without leaving a valid Will. In these cases, the person’s estate has to be administered according to the intestacy laws. Essentially, this means that a person’s estate would go to their closest legal relative.
The order of preference for intestacy laws is:
- Their spouse or civil partner.
- Their children or grandchildren.
- Their parents.
- Their siblings or nieces and nephews.
- Their half siblings or half nieces and nephews.
- Their grandparents.
- Their aunts and uncles or cousins.
- Their half aunts and uncles or half cousins.
If there were no living relatives that met this criteria, everything in the person’s estate would pass to the crown.
As you can see, this is a restrictive list that does not necessarily represent real life families. If the person who had died had a partner they were not married to or in a civil partnership with, that partner would not be able to inherit via the intestacy rules. The intestacy rules would also not allow for step-children (whether or not their parent was legally married or in a civil partnership with the person who has died), foster children, children you are a legal guardian of or godchildren to inherit.
This means that not leaving a Will could result in loved ones not being adequately provided for, or even in an estate passing to an estranged relative. Because of this, it’s not unusual for these situations to lead to costly and complicated legal battles.
What can you do to protect a blended family?
If you have a blended family, the good news is that there’s a very simple way to ensure their interests would be protected in the event of your death. Writing a Will would enable you to make clear exactly which individuals you would wish to benefit from your estate, regardless of whether or not those individuals are legally related to you. This means that you could ensure loved ones such as unmarried partners, stepchildren and foster children would be able to inherit your property, money or other assets.
A specialist solicitor will be able to talk through your family situation with you and advise on how best to arrange your Will. The solicitor will also be able to work with you to ensure that the wishes you have left are clear, fair and less vulnerable to legal disputes.
What about ensuring everyone in a blended family is fairly provided for?
When you work with an experienced solicitor, they’ll be able to develop a bespoke Will that meets your needs perfectly. This is particularly beneficial if you want to ensure that you have provided for everyone within a blended family.
One of the major dilemmas someone might have when writing a Will in these situations might be how to ensure their spouse or civil partner has been left comfortably off while also providing for any children they might have from a previous relationship.
Couples often make simple ‘mirror’ wills that each leave everything to the other partner. This often doesn’t work for blended families, as it creates the risk that the children of whichever partner was to die first would end up inheriting nothing when the second partner died and left the estate only to their own children. In situations such as these, the couple may well have had an informal agreement for the surviving partner to split the estate between all the children on their death, but this would not be legally enforceable. Time can change even the most sincerely meant promises, and if the surviving partner was to fall out with their step-children, remarry, require significant later-life care or even die without leaving a valid Will themselves, this could mean that they broke the agreement.
Because of this, we would always recommend that couples with blended families set out their full wishes in their Will rather than relying on good faith gestures. In situations such as these, many couples decide to incorporate life interest trusts in their Will. For example, a couple could decide to each leave their own share of their marital home to their own children, but with the proviso of a life interest trust that would mean that the surviving partner would have the right to stay living in the house for the rest of their life. In doing this, the couple would both be able to ringfence an inheritance for their children while also ensuring the surviving partner was able to stay in their home.
Where to start?
If you’d like to write a Will designed to protect the interests of your blended family, the first step is to get in touch. You can make an enquiry about writing or updating your Will with us here.
How Roche Legal can help
We are reassuring experts who can help you with a wide range of legal matters. Please get in touch if you need legal support with:
- Trusts and Estate Planning
- Probate and Estate Administration
- Contested Probate and Will Disputes
- Powers of Attorney
- Court of Protection matters
- Presumption of Death Applications
- Missing Persons Guardianship Applications
Need further help?
If you would like to discuss how we can assist, please contact us.