Stepparents and inheritance

Disputes involving children and their stepparents who automatically inherit

Inheritance lawyer, Naomi Ireson, looks at a common problem facing adult children when their family home automatically passes to a stepparent and answers the question, ‘What can I do if a stepparent inherits a family home?’

The problem caused by survivorship

If a property is owned by a couple under what lawyers call a ‘joint tenancy’, it means that when one of the owners die the property will pass automatically to the other owner. This principle of inheritance is called the ‘survivorship rule’.

Survivorship usually reflects people’s wishes about who they would like their property to pass to. However, it does sometimes cause problems with blended families. In particular children can feel aggrieved when a family home passes to someone, such as a stepparent, who is unlikely to pass it on, in turn, to them.

The home is frequently one that represents a lifetime’s investment of a previously deceased parent who always intended for them to ultimately inherit it

Many children in this situation are surprised to learn that the survivorship rule applies even where their parent’s will makes specific provision for them. This is because the survivorship principle is applied BEFORE the terms of any will are acted on. Property that passes by survivorship does not fall into the deceased parent’s estate and does not therefore pass under the terms of their will. As a consequence their children receive no inheritance, even if they are named in the will.

So, what can I do if a stepparent inherits a family home?

One option for children in this position is to make a claim under the Inheritance Act. This gives children of the deceased (who have not been adequately provided for) the ability to pursue a claim for financial provision from their parent’s estate.

Where the property has already passed to the stepparent (or any other person) by the principle of survivorship, the Inheritance Act allows the court to order the deceased’s share of the property to be brought back into their estate for the purposes of a claim. This means that children can therefore still pursue a claim against their parent’s property under the Inheritance Act even if the stepparent has already acquired it under the survivorship rule.

Is there a time limit for an Inheritance Act claim?

Claims under the Inheritance Act have a limitation date of six months from the grant of representation. If this limitation date has passed, your claim will probably be out of time. However, where a property has passed via the rule of survivorship the value of the remaining estate is often minimal. As a result a grant of representation may not have been obtained. If this is the case the six-month limitation date may have never started to run, and an Inheritance Act claim can still be brought many years after the deceased’s passing. However, to prevent the possibility of your claim being out of time we would recommend you contact us as soon as possible.

If you think the time limit has already passed it is still worth seeking specialist guidance from an inheritance lawyer as it may still be possible to bring a claim out of time.

How we can help you

If you have been left wondering, ‘What can I do if a stepparent inherits a family home?’ then we would urge you to contact our free legal helpline as soon as possible for a free case assessment. We will review your claim and discuss the funding options available to you, including No Win, No Fee. Call us on 0808 139 1597 or email us at [email protected]

Stepparents and inheritance