Inheritance claims made by disinherited step children

We are regularly consulted by step children who want to know what their inheritance rights are, especially when a step child has been disinherited by their step parent. As specialist inheritance solicitors we are experienced in dealing with claims involving step children and step parents. We deal with cases nationwide, so if you require guidance about making or defending a claim then call our free helpline on 0808 139 1599 or email us at info@inheritancedisputes.co.uk

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 step parent has a change of heart and leaves the entire estate to their own children or out of the family altogether. What can the step child do? What inheritance rights do step children have in this sitiation?

With second and even third marriages being so prevalent these days the number of stepchildren who feel they have been unfairly disinherited is rising. They often feel acutely aggrieved that their biological parents' wishes are being ignored and the inheritance that was intended for them is unfairly passing to someone they would not have wanted to benefit.

The legal system can help correct an injustice in the following ways:

  • A step child could seek to challenge the validity of their step parent’s Will if there is evidence of undue influence, lack of testamentary capacity or that the 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.
  • A step child 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 their step parent’s estate.

A successful claim under the Inheritance Act requires you to 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 an inheritance 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 Inheritance Act. What is required to be eligible is that your step parent (asthe 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 are a step child who has been disinherited and believe you may have a claim against your step parent’s estate then call our specialist inheritance dispute lawyers for a free assessment on 0808 139 1599 or email us at info@inheritancedisputes.co.uk