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A person who dies without a will is known to have died ‘intestate’, in which case the laws of intestacy apply to their estate. In essence these laws decide who will inherit the estate which do not provide for unmarried partners and stepchildren of the family.  More often than not, the individual acting in the role of parent to a child that is not their own biologically is likely to be young themselves. The need to make a will and the risk of their possible untimely death tends to be a distant thought.

Note: names have been changed for confidentiality.

In this case, a man (Alan) had died intestate in his mid-30’s. He left behind his unmarried partner (Christine), together with her daughter from a previous relationship (Jessica), and their biological son (Harry). Aged just 3 years at the time of the Alan’s death, Harry was the only member of the family entitled to the entirety of Alan’s estate under the intestacy rules.

Without being married or in a civil partnership, Christine, like many others in similar situations, had no legal entitlement to inherit any of her partner’s estate. Alan had been the main breadwinner for the young family and Christine was unable to support the household on her much smaller income. Christine therefore needed to make a claim for maintenance under The Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975.

There was also the issue of Jessica being left to receive nothing from her stepfather’s estate, whilst her half-brother was set to receive the sizeable estate. Jessica who was under the age of 18 years was represented by Flint Bishop (via a litigation friend), as she required separate legal representation to her mother. Any child treated by the deceased as a “child of the family” (whether or not the deceased was married to the child’s parent) has the right to bring a claim under The Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975. Jessica’s claim was made on this basis.

Following settlement discussions, a satisfactory settlement was achieved for Jessica.

In arguing that Jessica should be equal to Harry as a beneficiary, the claim was made that the two young siblings had equal standing as members of Alan’s family. General behaviour within their relationship was also a contributing factor as it was acknowledged by witnesses that Alan had raised and treated Jessica as his own child and he did not differentiate between his two children.

The parties successfully agreed settlement terms for the claims against the estate. The Court approved the settlement terms at an infant settlement approval hearing, which brought the matter to a successful resolution for all involved.

Though many of us do not think about writing a will until we are approaching are more senior years, this case once again demonstrates the importance of careful planning for such unexpected life events.

Writing a will is recommended to everyone, cases such as these highlight just how important it is to ensure that you are leaving your estate to those persons that you would like to benefit from it, especially so where there are dependants involved who may not inherit under the intestacy laws.  A few further examples of situations which may trigger the need to have a will put into place are if you:

  • Have become a parent
  • Have bought a home
  • Have a long-term partner who you are not intending to marry
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