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Happy families – how can I ensure everyone is protected?

Happy families – how can I ensure everyone is protected?

There has been a vast change in the traditional family make up in the past decade, with more and more single parents, cohabiting couples, and blended families (a family generally consisting of a couple, the children they have had together, and also their children from previous relationships).

The number of blended families is increasing in modern society with a recent report estimating that one in three families in the UK are “blended”. Modern families can be complex. As well as adjusting to new situations and relationships, parents and indeed step-parents must also think about any financial adjustments and legal implications for their future.

One main concern is often deciding as to how each family member can benefit from a person’s estate after they have passed away – especially when this concerns children, step-children and adopted children. In order to protect all family members, and to minimise stress for your family when you are no longer here, it is important to set out your wishes in black and white and make a comprehensive Will. 

Sideways disinheritance is common in blended families and occurs when beneficiaries (most often children of a first marriage) do not inherit their intended share of an estate due to remarriage. Often when a person passes away, their estate (their money, possessions and property) is left to the surviving spouse. The surviving partner can then however go on to have another relationship, which can lead to a demise in the relationship with the first partner’s children. Or indeed the surviving partner may decide to just change their Will and remove their step-children from being beneficiaries from their Will.

In Scotland, adopted children have the same legal rights as biological children to the estate of their deceased parent. However although many step parents see a non-biological child as naturally their own, if they have not legally adopted the child then complications can arise with a Will in the future.

One common option for blended families is for the parent to set up a Trust – this will hold the money or assets for the benefit of another person. Using a Trust, a parent can for example allocate shares of their property to a child, which would protect them should the surviving spouse’s Will change either deliberately or inadvertently. 

Inheritance disputes are costly and acrimonious, therefore with the rise in non-nuclear families, it is becoming increasingly important for couples to think about ways in which they can provide for their partner, should they die first, whilst also ensuring that their children will benefit from their estate, and put their wishes down in black and white.