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Inheritance and Stepfamilies

View profile for Tom Couch
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A Will is the only way to make sure that your money, property, possessions, and investments (known as your estate), go to the people and causes that you care about.

There are many benefits to making a Will, but perhaps the most important reason is that a Will can give you control over who your estate passes to, and who your estate is administered by (Executors) when you die. In the absence of a Will, you will be deemed to have died intestate, and so the law will decide who gets what from your estate.

There are certain rules that affect the validity of a will, but provided that the Will is valid, only people within certain categories of relationship to the person who died are entitled to challenge the effect of the Will.

If someone has died without making a Will, that person’s assets are distributed according to the laws of intestacy.

How do these principles affect stepfamilies?

The intestacy rules in England and Wales do not cover stepfamilies unless the parent who died had formally adopted the stepchild. A husband, wife, or civil partner can each inherit a certain amount from each other under the intestacy rules, but that does not extend to their stepchildren.

If you are living in a stepfamily, it is of vital importance that you make a Will that ensures that on death your assets go to the people who are important to you.

What are the intestacy rules?

The intestacy rules are strict rules set out in law. Who inherits if someone dies without a Will?

Is there a living husband, wife, or civil partner?

Yes. The husband, wife, or civil partner of the deceased gets all of the estate.

If there are any living children, then the husband, wife, or civil partner of the deceased will get up to £322,000.00 in assets (since 26 July 2023), and half of the rest of the estate including all of the personal possessions of the deceased. The children of the deceased are then entitled to a share of the half of the estate above £322,000.00.

If any of the children died before the deceased, their children (grandchildren of the deceased) inherit in their place. If any of these grandchildren died before the deceased, their children (great-grandchildren of the deceased) inherit in their place.

Are there any living children or any other living descendants (such as grandchildren or great-grandchildren?

Once it has been established that there is no living husband, wife, or civil partner, the estate will be shared equally between the living children.

Similar to the above, if any of the children died before the deceased died, their children (grandchildren of the deceased) will inherit in their place. The same applies to great-grandchildren.

Are there any living parents?

In the absence of a living husband, wife, civil partner, children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, the estate is shared equally between any living parents.

Continued

This process of establishing who inherits if someone dies without a Will continues into the following categories, in the following order:

  • Any living brothers or sisters, or any living descendants of deceased brothers or sisters (such as nephews or nieces).
  • Any living half-brothers or half-sisters, or any living descendants of deceased half-brothers or half-sisters (such as half-nephews or half-nieces); or
  • Any living grandparents.
  • Any living aunts or uncles, or any living descendants of deceased aunts or uncles (such as cousins).
  • Any living half-aunts or half-uncles, or living descendants of deceased half-aunts or half-uncles (such as half-cousins).
What if there are no blood relatives?

When someone dies with no Will or known family, their property passes to the Crown as ownerless property (or ‘bona vacantia’ (meaning ‘unclaimed goods’)). It can be any kind of property, such as buildings, money, or personal possessions.

Conclusion

This is a notoriously complex area of law which can have far reaching consequences for stepchildren in the absence of a valid Will. Only a professionally drafted Will which takes into consideration the intricacies of your family life can ensure that your wishes are carried out.

If you require any advice in relation to any of the information outlined above, please telephone or email our Inheritance Protection team on 02392 660261 or Info@biscoes-law.co.uk