Why making a Will is crucial in blended families
Making a Will can be a daunting prospect if you have a complex, blended family, involving a second marriage and step-children. Clare McLeish, Solicitor in Coodes’ Wills, Probate and Trusts team, explains why estate planning is particularly important for people in this situation.
Life is complex, family is complex and inheritance can be complex, but making a Will needn’t be. Around 42 percent of marriages end in divorce and second marriages and blended families are becoming increasingly common. Life rarely stays the same for long, so it is important to ensure your Will is kept up to date to reflect your changing circumstances.
Estate planning when you remarry
According to the Office for National Statistics, around a third of marriages involve at least one person in the couple remarrying. Embarking on a second marriage can make estate planning more complex, especially if children are involved.
When spouses bring wealth and/or children into a marriage there are inevitably competing interests. One way of balancing everyone’s needs is to create a Will allowing your spouse to enjoy your assets for as long as they need or live while also ensuring that your children will ultimately inherit your estate. Every situation is different, so getting legal advice will help ensure your Will reflects your own individual situation and the needs of your family.
The impact of a second marriage on your Will
It is vital to understand that a marriage or civil partnership automatically revokes a previous Will. That means that a Will that was made before you tied the knot is no longer valid if you then go on to marry. If the Will you made before getting married left everything to your children and you go onto marry again then you will need to consider how to make provision for your children and your new husband or wife.
You and your spouse may decide to leave everything to each other, with your assets to be divided between the various stepchildren after you have both died. However, under the majority of Wills, a person is completely free to change their Will at any time, provided they have the mental capacity to do so. That means a stepchild can easily find themselves disinherited from their step-parent’s Will and therefore also from inheriting their parent’s assets.
A sensible and common way of avoiding such a scenario is to create a life-interest trust. This would allow your husband or wife to benefit from your assets, and any income produced by them, while the underlying capital asset is crystallised for your own respective children.
The consequence of dying without a Will
Some people put off making a Will because they feel their life is too complex and they do not want to have to make difficult decisions. If they die without a Will they would have no control over who inherits their assets and instead their estate would be distributed under the rules of intestacy. In this case, the first £250,000 of assets in your sole name will pass to your spouse outright, with the rest of your solely owned assets being divided equally between your spouse and children. In many cases this will mean the house is inherited by the spouse cutting out the step-children entirely.
The only way to avoid the rules of intestacy is to make a Will, setting out your own personal wishes.
Considerations for jointly owned assets
Care should be taken with jointly owned assets, including the family home. If you and your spouse own a property as joint tenants, it will pass automatically to the surviving spouse on death. This means you cannot leave your share to your children under your Will. If you own the house as tenants in common, each co-owner holds a distinct share that can be identified and gifted to your children on your death. Getting expert legal advice will help ensure you understand how best to own your property and record your wishes in your Will.
Inheritance disputes are increasing and those involving blended families where no Will has been made can be especially difficult. The best way to avoid this future heartache for your loved ones is to have a properly drafted, up to date Will.