Blended families can take on many different forms but will typically include a couple, Beit married or in a de facto relationship, and one or both have children from previous relationships. Or the couple may have children from previous relationships and have further children to that or the new relationship.
Blended families are generally caused due to separation, divorce, or death of a partner. The number of blended families in Australia is ever-increasing, generally because the rate of divorce can be as high as 50%. Unfortunately, a lot of couples in blended families put their heads in the sand when it comes to dealing with potential issues that commonly occur in blended families. A lot of the time, the conversation around wills and estate planning may lead to conflict, which some people try and avoid. Unfortunately, one or both spouses died, and these unresolved issues materialise and most times end in estate disputes.
Estate Disputes in Blended Families
A common scenario is that if one spouse dies, and their will provides that their estate is to pass to the surviving spouse, then on the death of the surviving spouse the estate is distributed evenly between the children and stepchildren.
Although we are seeing an ever-increasing inquiry rate concerning what can be done where a spouse dies, and their estate passes to the survivor, the surviving spouse changes their will to exclude the deceased spouse’s children from benefiting from their estate and only names their children as beneficiaries of the new will. These changes are not limited to people’s wills and estate, it also concerns who will have control of the family trust, family companies, and self-managed super funds.
So when the surviving spouses pass away, the stepchild discovers they are not named as beneficiaries in the will, are eligible to bring a claim against the estate for further provision. Generally, because they have been excluded for no good reason, the Court may hold the view that the step-parent had a moral obligation to provide for their stepchild or children, and will make provision for them. In other words, the court will give them a sum of money or assets from the estate.
Estate Planning for a Blended Families
To illustrate this, here is a common example: You have a couple, be it married or in a de facto. They both had three adult children from previous relationships. They had some wills prepared where, in the event that one of them died, the estate is to pass to the survivor of them, and on the death of both of them, their estate was to pass they the 6 children equally – so equally to their biological children and their stepchildren.
In some cases, when the relationship commences, one spouse will have more assets than the other. During the period of the relationship, and for various different reasons, there can be tension between the family members – particularly between the stepchildren and step-parents. Then – one spouse dies and their estate passes to the survivor. Some years later, the surviving spouse dies. Although it is normally at this time then the stepchildren discover their step-parent rewrote their will where they are excluded from it.
In this scenario, the stepchildren are eligible to bring a claim against the estate.
This type of scenario is ever increasing. We have been able to successfully help many stepchildren bring claims against an estate, where their removal as beneficiary was of no fault of their own.
If you think you may have a claim against an estate, please contact us for a free claim assessment.