You might have heard of the term ‘blended family’ in the past few years. As we start to experience longer life spans in our society with more acceptance towards divorce, and openness to multiple relationships over the course of our lives, our families become a little more complex than the once-popular nuclear family model.
Blended families don’t have a prerequisite, they are created by people having a second or third marriage, having multiple children from different partners, de facto relationships, adopting, or raising stepchildren.
Family dynamics have become multilayered and can sometimes lead to conflict as there are many cooks in the kitchen – that’s why it’s important to have an estate plan in place for when you or your spouse passes on.
What happens if I don’t have an estate plan?
When it comes to blended families, if you pass away your assets may go straight to your spouse and their children, meaning your biological children may miss out on their rightful portion of your estate. It might not mean a lot to you now, but when you pass away you will be leaving your children nothing but expensive legal fees, as they aim to rectify the situation with inheritance claims. These claims are known as family provision claims, from the legislation of Inheritance (Family Provision) Act 1974.
These estates, if not handled properly, can also result in stepchildren taking action if they feel they were not compensated for. As having stepchildren is becoming more commonplace, the number of deceased estates being contested by stepchildren has also risen; either because they were not included in the deceased’s Will, or received less than they expected.
How do I know who to include in my Will?
Discussing your estate plan with a solicitor will make the process much smoother, but essentially need to make your own decision when it comes to who you leave your assets to. Your testamentary freedom means while you can assign beneficiaries, it can still be challenged on the basis the Will was not adequate enough for a certain person/s; if one or more of your spouses (including de facto) or biological children are not satisfied with their portion of the estate, they are “eligible” to challenge the Will in court. Though step children aren’t automatically considered eligible, they can make a claim under certain circumstances, such as if they were dependent on the deceased at one point in their life.
What happens when someone challenges the estate?
The Inheritance (Family Provision) Act 1974 comes into play and the Supreme Court has the role of considering a challenge based on a number of factors and criteria. The Court must determine whether the claimant is entitled to a larger portion of the estate or not, based on the “adequate provision” of their proper maintenance, education or advancement in life as shown in the Will of the deceased amongst a range of other issues.
What should I do next?
The best way to avoid unnecessary drama, expensive litigation fees for your loved ones, and possible fallouts between your family members, is to carefully consider your estate plan. Your blended family should be considered when figuring out how assets are held, what each person’s expectations and needs are and how you can satisfy them in order to avoid conflict when you’re gone.
Discuss your estate plan and create a legal Will with your solicitor, it’s the best insurance policy, whilst doing what you think is best for your blended family.