Of the 19.3 million families living in the UK in 2021 it was estimated that one third of them were ‘blended’, meaning the family contains a combination of parents, new partners and / or children from the old and new relationships. Given this accounts for over 6 million families it is crucial that the legal consequences of the increasingly common modern family are carefully considered.
Making a will as part of a blended family
Many couples would like their wills to be simple, which usually means leaving assets to their partner in the first instance with the children benefitting in equal shares following the second death.
This simplicity can result in some very serious and unintended consequences when you are part of a blended family. Given blended families usually come into existence later in life there are often various complicating factors that need to be considered including, for example:
- One party to the relationship owning significantly more assets than the other
- Large age gaps between the parties to the relationship
- Large age gaps both between the children of the parties to the relationship but also potentially the children of one of the parties to the relationship if they have children from multiple relationships
- Family assets such as farms, businesses, personal belongings that you want to ensure remain in ‘your’ family.
What’s the problem with mirror wills for blended families?
If you have a simple will which leaves your estate to your partner following your death the usual inheritance tax rules will apply (generally full spouse exemption is available if you are married or in a civil partnership at the time of death) but your partner will own those inherited assets outright. They may start out with a mirror will to yours, which ensures your children benefit following your partner’s death, but your partner would be free to amend that will at any time during their surviving lifetime.
As various recent court cases and newspaper reports have shown, it is not unusual for the surviving partner to change their will as their circumstances change, particularly if there is a long period between first and second death. This often sees the children of the first to die either lose out entirely or take much less than they otherwise would have. This can often result in court action, if that is even possible, which can be hugely costly both in terms of time and money spent.
Even if the surviving partner does not alter their will to disinherit their step-children there could be a significant delay in the children of the first partner actually benefitting from the estate of their parent if they have to wait until the death of the surviving partner to receive any inheritance at all.
What can I do to ensure both my spouse and children from a previous relationship inherit when I die?
The simple answer is to take competent professional advice. There are many options open to an individual / couple in these circumstances so bespoke advice is always recommended, however, one option, for example, would be to put in place wills that include trusts to ensure the surviving partner is adequately provided for during their ongoing lifetime but the capital owned by the first to die eventually passes down to their chosen beneficiaries, usually their children, even if the survivor changes their own will. Such wills can also provide ways for your children to benefit even before the death of your surviving partner, if it is possible to achieve this, which can also prove to be very inheritance tax efficient.
Our Wills, Estate & Tax Planning team has extensive experience in advising generations of families, including blended families and would be happy to answer any questions you may have.