We are all familiar with the fairy-tale of Cinderella. Cinder’s mother dies and her father re-marries. The wicked step mother assumes control and favours her own children at the expense of poor old Cinderella. In the fairy tale the wicked step mother and her children get their comeuppance, but in real life the ending isn’t always quite so happy.
Stepparents, stepchildren and inheritance
As specialists in conrtesting wills, we are receiving an increasing number of enquiries from stepchildren who have lost an inheritance they believe is rightly theirs due to the actions of a stepparent.
Here’s one particularly common scenario: Mum and dad have worked hard over the years to accrue their wealth; the intention always being to pass that wealth on to their own children. Mum dies early and dad goes on to remarry someone with children of her own from a previous relationship. When dad dies his estate passes to his new wife. It’s then her’s to dispose of how she pleases. The new wife decides to pass the combined estates to her own children, cutting out her step-children completely.
The same issues arise where mother remarries and the stepfather inherits.
Step-children contesting wills on the increase
It’s clear that this now presents a major problem in modern Britain. Social trends are likely to be at play here. The prevalence of re-marriages and blended families, coupled with rising property prices and greater cross generational wealth, is a breeding ground for these disputes.
The problem is fuelled by the common practice among married couples to make mirror wills which leave the surviving spouse everything, with the combined estates being divided between the children of both marriages on the second death. In most instances that works very well, but not in all cases.
After the death of the first spouse, the remaining mirror will is automatically revoked as soon as the survivor remarries. This means that a new will has to be made, the terms of which may be different to the original one. If a new will is not made then the intestacy rules apply and it is impoortant to bear in mind that step-children are not recognised under those ruiles unless they have been formally adopted.
We also find that the relationship between the stepparent and the stepchild can often become more distant after the last biological parent dies. They have lost the person who connects them after all. This can result in the surviving spouse eventually changing their will so as to leave everything to their own children, excluding the stepchildren altogether.
As a result of these factors contested wills involving stepparents and stepchildren are on the increase.
How we can help you
There are measures that couples with children from previous relationships can take to ensure that their biological children don’t lose out. However this is not always something they will wish to confront. People are understandably wary about raising awkward financial issues with their other half and offence can easily be caused. But can the risk be ignored? If they don’t deal with it, are their jeopardising their own children’s financial future?
Where it is already too late to avoid a problem and you are left asking, ‘Can I contest my stepmother’s will?’ our team of specialist solicitors are here to help. Call our free legal helpline on 0808 139 1596 or send an email with brief details to us at [email protected]
We have a range of funding options available, including no win, no fee.