Inheritance Claims and the Problem of the Disinherited Stepchild

Here’s a common scenario that we encounter on a daily basis: Parents divorce and remarry, mum or dad trusts their new spouse to “do the right thing” when they die. Consequently they leave their entire estate to the step-parent in their Will. However the surviving stepparent then has a change of heart and leaves the entire estate to their own children or out of the family altogether.

With second and even third marriages with children being so prevalent these days we are frequently consulted by stepchildren who feel they have been unfairly disinherited.
The legal system can help correct such injustice in the following ways:

  • You could seek to challenge the validity of your step-parent’s Will if you believe there is evidence of undue influence, lack of testamentary capacity or that your step-parent did not know and approve the contents of the Will. However, before you can mount such a claim you need to be a “disappointed beneficiary.” Stepchildren do not benefit under the intestacy rules, so you would need to be a beneficiary under a previous will.
  • You could bring a claim under section 1(1) (d) of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 – as a child of the family who has not received reasonable financial provision from your step-parent’s estate.

A successful claim under the 1975 Act requires that you satisfy the court that what you’ve received from the estate is unreasonable. The court will make such a finding having balanced a number of factors outlined at section 3 of the 1975 Act – these include your financial needs and resources (as compared to the financial needs and resources of the beneficiaries) any disability you or the beneficiaries have and any promises made to you by your step-parent that you would benefit from the estate (perhaps such promises were the reason you did not seek to challenge your parent’s estate on their earlier death). If the court believes that the factors weigh in your favour then it is likely to find that there has been unreasonable provision and adjust the distribution of the estate accordingly.

The level of award will not necessarily correlate with the nature of any promise made as it is limited to what is required for your maintenance. However, if you can show that the amount promised was necessary for your maintenance then you may find that the two do coincide.

The courts have made it clear that even adult step children who have been adults throughout the duration of the relationship between their parent and the step-parent can still claim under the 1975 Act. What is required to be eligible is that your step-parent (as spouse of your parent) assumed the responsibilities and privileges of a position as parent. Clearly it would therefore be a stronger claim for eligibility if your step-parent helped you financially or assumed more responsibility as your parent.

If you believe you may have a claim against your step-parent’s estate and would like to know more then call our specialist inheritance dispute lawyers for a free assessment on 0808 139 1599.