Are you part of a blended family? Protecting your loved ones
You may have seen in the news recently the battle between two stepsisters which is currently being heard in The High Court in relation to each of their respective parents, John and Ann Scarle.
John and Ann were found dead at their property in October 2016. Their cause of death and the length of time taken to discover their bodies has meant it is impossible to determine which of the couple died first. In instances such as these, the law presumes that the oldest person died first which in this case would be John. However, John’s daughter is arguing that it is likely Ann would have in fact been the first to die, given her pre-existing health conditions. The Judge has reserved his ruling on the matter for a later date.
The order of death is an important determination as, because the property was held in the joint names of John and Ann, the half share of the first to die will automatically pass to the other joint owner, regardless of the terms of their Will. On the death of the second spouse, their assets (now of course comprising of the first spouse’s share in the property) will pass as per the terms of their Will. Therefore, if John had died first and Ann second, John’s half share in the property would have passed to Ann and it is likely she would have left her whole estate to her children without making any provision for John’s children, and vice versa. This has meant that, either way, one stepsister has not been adequately provided for in the way presumably their parent would have wanted.
The full news article can be found here.
If you are part of a “blended family” and you or your spouse or partner have children from previous relationships, you may wish to consider putting in place “life-interest trust Wills” and altering the way in which your property is held to ensure that your intended beneficiaries ultimately inherit after your death, regardless of how well you all get along at present.
If you die before your spouse and have prepared a “life-interest trust Will” you can allow your spouse to continue living in the matrimonial home during their lifetime whilst also ring-fencing your half share in the property so that ultimately it passes to your children. On the death of your spouse your children will receive your share, regardless of the contents of your spouse’s Will. Had John and Ann each put in place this type of Will, their children would have each benefited from their respective parent’s half share in the property, regardless of who had died first, which would have avoided the need for the matter to become litigious.
If you think that the above situation may apply to you and your family, ensuring that your Will properly protects the interests of your loved ones will, hopefully, remove the need for matters to become contentious on your death, in turn relieving stress and upset for your family at an already difficult time.
If you would like to discuss the above, or any other aspect of estate planning, please do not hesitate to contact our Private Client team.