My Mum your Dad – the importance of Wills in blended families

31 October 2023 Wills, Trusts & Estates Alan Roughead

In today's ever-evolving family structures, it's not uncommon to see blended families, where parents from previous relationships come together and create a new living environment for their children. While the dynamics of these families can be heart-warming, they can also present complex legal challenges, particularly when it comes to inheritance and estate planning. Davina McCall’s popular TV series "My Mum, Your Dad" highlights how common it is for blended families to come together, and whilst it may seem easy, it doesn’t look in detail at the potential issues which can arise in the future for blended families, including the vital importance of having a Will in place, especially when children from other relationships are involved.

It's crucial to secure your family's future with a well-crafted Will, especially in a modern blended family. Families made up of step-parents, step-siblings, and half-siblings have challenges as they learn to live together as a family. These dynamics, while uplifting, often raise complex questions regarding inheritance, assets, and financial security for all family members.

One of the most significant concerns in blended families is the possibility of ‘sideways disinheritance’. This term refers to a situation in which a child from a previous relationship is unintentionally disinherited due to inadequate or unclear estate planning. Sideways disinheritance can occur when a parent passes away without a Will or with an outdated Will that does not reflect their current family structure and wishes.

Consider this scenario: Roger and Janey get married (this is both of their respective second marriages, each with children from previous relationships). Roger passes away without a Will, and his estate goes to his spouse, Janey. When Janey eventually passes away, she leaves her entire estate to her biological children, unintentionally disinheriting Roger’s children. Sideways disinheritance can cause emotional distress, family disputes, and financial hardship for the children left out of the inheritance.

As your family dynamics change, it's essential to update your Will to reflect your current situation, ensuring it remains legally valid and reflects your wishes. Having a comprehensive Will also allows you to:

  • Clarify your intentions: A well-drafted Will provides a clear statement of your intentions regarding the distribution of your assets, ensuring that your loved ones are taken care of as you wish.
  • Protect your children: A Will allows you to provide for your children from previous relationships and ensure they are not unintentionally disinherited, typically using Trust provisions in a Will.
  • Appoint guardians: In the event of your passing, you can nominate guardians for your minor children, ensuring they are cared for by someone you trust.
  • Minimise conflicts: A well thought out Will can help prevent disputes and legal battles among family members, reducing the emotional stress during an already challenging time.

Creating a Will for a blended family is a complex task that requires careful consideration of individual circumstances and legal expertise. To protect your family's future and prevent the possibility of sideways disinheritance, it's essential to consult with an experienced solicitor and have a well-drafted Will in place.

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