If you are not biologically related to your parents, then the question of whether you are entitled to inherit from them depends on a number of factors. These include whether you were formally adopted by your parents and whether they left Wills.
Is There a Will?
If your mother or father made a Will before they died, then this will state exactly who should inherit what from them. If you have been named as a Beneficiary in the Will, then this will stand regardless of your biological relationship to your parents. Anyone who has not been named as a Beneficiary in the Will is not entitled to inherit anything, regardless of their relationship with the deceased.
If your parents did not leave a Will, then strict inheritance laws called the Rules of Intestacy will come into play, to determine who inherits what. This is where the matter becomes more complicated.
What is Your Formal Relationship with Your Parents?
Under the Rules of Intestacy, biological children and adopted children are seen in exactly the same way. So if you are not the biological child of your parents, but you have been formally adopted by them, in the eyes of the law you will be recognised in the same way as if you were their biological child.
The Rules of Intestacy set out relatives of the deceased in order of priority. The deceased's spouse or civil partner is at the top of that list, followed by the deceased's children.
While adopted children are recognised under the Rules of Intestacy, step children and foster children are not. This is the case even if the deceased had Parental Responsibility for the step or foster child and raised them as though they were their biological child. This can come as an unpleasant surprise for some and it can cause upset between family members at what is likely to be an already distressing time.
If a Beneficiary's relationship to the deceased is being disputed then it may be possible to confirm the biological relationship with DNA testing.
Example of Step-Child Not Receiving Inheritance
To illustrate circumstances in which someone could be accidentally omitted from inheritance, take Brian, Suzanne and Zoe's situation.
Brian and Suzanne have been married for 25 years. Suzanne has a daughter, Zoe, from a previous relationship. Although Zoe is not related to Brian, he took on the role of her step-father when she was still very young and has been there for her as a father throughout her life.
Brian and Suzanne had two further children together shortly after getting married. Zoe maintained a very close bond with her half siblings as the three of them grew up together.
Suzanne passes away. She hasn't left a Will, and everything that she owns passes to Brian under the Rules of Intestacy. Zoe and Brian remain close after Suzanne's death until Brian dies 15 years later. Brian has not left a Will either. Under the Rules of Intestacy, everything that he owns (which also includes everything that passed to him from Suzanne) is divided evenly between his biological children. This means that Zoe's two half-siblings could be set to inherit everything while Zoe may receive nothing.
It's likely that Suzanne and Brian had meant to ensure that Zoe was provided for, but for whatever reason they never got around to making a Will. As a result, Zoe may not be entitled to inherit anything from her parents.
An effective way to have avoided this situation would have been for Suzanne and Brian to make Wills while they were still alive. They could have set out exactly what they wanted to happen, leaving no room for any uncertainty.
Can I Still Make a Claim to My Share of the Inheritance?
Under the Inheritance Act, it may be possible to make a claim against an Estate, if you have not inherited as a result of the Rules of Intestacy. The purpose of this act is to ensure that reasonable financial provision if granted to certain family members of the deceased, providing the Estate can afford to provide this.
Only certain people are entitled to make a claim under the Inheritance Act. This includes biological and adopted children, but can also include any person treated as a child of the deceased for deaths after 1st October 2014. If you are in this situation, it's important to obtain independent legal advice from a Solicitor, who can discuss your individual circumstances.
For free initial advice and guidance call our Probate Advisors on 03306069584 or contact us online and we will call you.