What are the inheritance rights of stepchildren?
We are regularly contacted by stepchildren who want to know what their inheritance rights are, especially when a stepchild has been disinherited by their step-parent. As specialist inheritance solicitors we are experienced in dealing with claims involving stepchildren and step-parents. We deal with cases nationwide, so if you require guidance about the inheritance rights of stepchildren then call our free helpline on 0808 139 1599 or email us at [email protected]
Inheritance problems faced by stepchildren
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 stepchild do? What inheritance rights do stepchildren have in this situation?
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 are often acutely aggrieved that their biological parents’ wishes are being ignored and the inheritance intended for them is unfairly passing to someone their parents would not have wanted to benefit.
What inheritance rights do stepchildren have?
The legal system can help correct an injustice involving stepchildren in the following ways:
1. A stepchild could 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, for a stepchild to make such a claim they must be a “disappointed beneficiary.” Because stepchildren do not benefit under the intestacy rules they would need to be a beneficiary under a previous will.
2. A stepchild could bring a claim under 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.
Making a stepchild Inheritance Act claim
A successful claim under the Inheritance Act requires the stepchild to satisfy the court that what they have received from the estate is unreasonable. The court will make a decsion based on a number of factors, including the stepchild’s financial needs and resources (as compared to the financial needs and resources of the beneficiaries) any disability needs and any promises that have been made by a step-parent. This might include promises that persuaded the stepchild not seek to challenge their parent’s estate on their earlier death.
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 maintenance. However, if you can show that the amount promised was necessary for your maintenance then you may find that the two are the same.
Even adult stepchildren 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 (as the spouse of your parent) assumed the responsibilities and privileges of a parent. Clearly it would therefore be a stronger claim if your step parent helped you financially or assumed more responsibility as your parent.
You can read here about a case we dealt with for a stepchild who received nothing when his stepfather died, despite the fact that the estate contained assets that had been been owned by our client’s biological mother before she passed away. The claim was disputed by our client’s stepbrother so we took it to trial where the judge agreed with us that our client was entitled to receive his inheritance from the estate.
If you are a stepchild and would like to know if you have a claim against your step-parent’s estate or need guidance on the inheritance rights of stepchildren then call our specialist inheritance dispute lawyers for a free assessment on 0808 139 1599 or email us at [email protected]