Bulletins | July 10, 2023

Happy (Blended) families: how to avoid inheritance disputes

It is estimated that around one in four families in the UK is now “blended”, meaning that one or both partners have children from a previous relationship. A blended family can sometimes lead to conflict both during the life and after the death of a parent. Scenarios where inheritance disputes can escalate into legal battles include where there is conflict between children and their step-parent or where there is rivalry between step-siblings.

Key measures that can be taken to avoid inheritance disputes include the following.

Communicating with your family

Addressing family issues during your lifetime may be the easiest way to minimise the risk of a dispute post-death. It is worthwhile having honest discussions about what family members are likely to receive, to prevent any misunderstanding. If such discussions would be difficult, preparing a letter to accompany your Will explaining why you have decided to distribute your estate in a particular way could also help alleviate family tension.

Making a Will

Having a Will in place is a vital part of estate planning. Structuring your Will to create a discretionary trust enables your trustees to take into account beneficiaries’ circumstances and family dynamics when distributing your estate. You can provide your trustees with detailed guidance in a Letter of Wishes including information on which beneficiaries you would like to benefit and when. This Letter will be private to the trustees and keeping these wishes confidential could be key to maintaining family harmony.

Updating your Will

Marriage revokes an existing Will so if you do not sign a new Will after marriage, the intestacy rules would apply on your death. These rules are outdated and probably would not reflect your wishes for the devolution of your estate. Your estate could therefore be vulnerable to inheritance claims by a child or another family member for statutory financial provision. It is therefore essential that you review your Will regularly to ensure that your wishes for the distribution of your estate are protected.

Our Private Client team includes lawyers who specialise in inheritance disputes, and protecting against such disputes through Wills and estate planning. Please contact us if you would like further information.