Inheritance laws in England and Wales don't automatically recognise step-children so you need to make a Will which specifies who inherits what, or your Estate could be distributed to people you would not have chosen.
Why Do Step-Children Complicate Wills?
These days it's common for people to have complex family setups. A couple may enter into their second or third marriage but have children from a previous relationship. Whatever the circumstances, when you bring children to a relationship, it can create all sorts of problems with regards to inheritance.
For example, perhaps you would like your step-children to inherit from your Estate. After all, some people are very close to their step-children and view them as if they were their own flesh and blood. However, if you do not make a Will expressing these wishes, then your step-children have no automatic right to inherit from your Estate – only your biological children do and even that can depend upon whether you are married and the value of your Estate when you die.
On the other hand, perhaps you do not want your step-children to inherit from your Estate. Maybe you have your own children and you want them to receive everything. But this creates difficulties, because if you have remarried, then you might also want to provide for your spouse if you die first.
This is understandable. It's important to know that if you name your spouse as your main Beneficiary and you die first, then your Estate will become part of his/her Estate. Your spouse then has the freedom to leave their assets to whomever they choose, and so it may result in your step-children receiving everything when your spouse dies, and your children inherit nothing.
Your spouse may allay your fears by saying this will never happen, and that if you die first, he/she will ensure that your children receive what is rightfully theirs. But you cannot be certain that this will actually happen. Family disputes may arise after your death, or your spouse may even re-marry, meaning their new husband or wife will stand to inherit your Estate.
Given all this, you might think the best approach is to not make a Will. In such circumstances, your spouse will be the main Beneficiary under the Rules of Intestacy, and any biological children you have will receive significantly less, or even nothing. Your step-children will then be in line to inherit your spouse's Estate when he/she dies, once again seeing them benefit the most.
How to Write a Will if You have Step-Children
If you have step-children, you need to decide exactly what you want to happen after your death. The law in England and Wales provides for 'testamentary freedom', meaning you can leave your Estate to the Beneficiaries of your choice. This might be your own children, it might be your step-children, or it might be neither.
You then need to speak to a Wills specialist about your wishes. Be sure to explain the situation in relation to your family set-up. A Wills specialist can then advise how best to write your Will to ensure that your Estate is distributed as you desire after your death. The way this is done will depend on your wishes.
If you do want to leave an inheritance to your step-children, then you will need to make this expressly clear in the terms of your Will. For example, you must say that you leave 20% of your Estate to your step-child Ben, and 20% of your Estate to your step-child Rebecca.
But if you do not want to leave an inheritance to your step-children, then you must name your chosen Beneficiaries, for instance, your children. It is then a good idea to leave a Letter of Wishes alongside your Will, explaining why you have decided to distribute your Estate in this way. If possible also have an open discussion with those who would be impacted to explain your wishes during your lifetime to let them air their views, to help you foresee whether they are in disagreement. This will limit the chance of your Will being challenged.
However, this still leaves the tricky situation of providing for your spouse, in the event that he/she outlives you. In such scenarios, lots of people want to ensure that their husband or wife is taken care of, without their Estates becoming entwined. To enable this, a good option is to create a Trust in your Will.
Depending on the terms of the Trust, this could provide your spouse with a home and an income for the remainder of their life. This will prevent your spouse from being left destitute, but will ensure your own Estate does not part of his or her Estate, ensuring that your step-children do not inadvertently inherit the lot.
Professionally Drafted Wills
Families are complicated, particularly in this day and age. But just because the situation is complicated, does not mean that you cannot distribute your Estate according to your wishes. Nevertheless, in order to achieve this, you need a professionally drafted Will that takes into account the intricacies of your family life.
Making a Will can be quick and easy when you receive the right guidance and especially when you have a specialist to help you complete each step from start to finish. At Co-op Legal Services our Will writing advisors can discuss your wishes, offer guidance and help you to make a Will that's right for you and your circumstances.
For initial advice about making a Will call our Will writers on 03306069591 or contact us online and we will call you.