Your stepchildren may not inherit any of your assets when you die. It may seem like a shocking state of affairs, but it can easily happen if you don’t have a will, or if your will doesn’t contain the right wording.
I don\’t have a will
If you don’t have a will at all, the situation is clear-cut. Your stepchildren won’t inherit anything. It seems strange but it’s a result of the fact that the law covering this area is the Administration of Estates Act, which dates back to 1925.
The Administration of Estates Act contains the intestacy rules, which govern what happens when someone dies without leaving a will.
The law was written in 1925, when the morals of the day were rather different. Back then, strong family ties were the order of the day. Consequently, only blood relatives benefit when a family member dies.
Of course, you can avoid this problem by writing a will and leaving your estate to whomever you want.
My estate should go to my children
Just don’t assume that stepchildren will be included if your will states that your estate should go to your children. They won’t be. In the eyes of the law, the word ‘children’ encompass biological children only.
Says Maplebrook Wills’ Mike Pugh: “It’s easy to overlook and completely understandable. People normally assume that stepchildren would be lumped in. But when the money\’s being divvied up and the stepchildren get nothing, it can cause a lot of suffering and consternation in a family.”
What you need to do is to mention stepchildren specifically. In other words, you say in your will that you wish to leave your estate to your ‘children and stepchildren’.
Of course, writing it this way it would include all of your stepchildren – and there may be a lot of them. You may not want that. So the best solution is simply to name each individual you wish to benefit from your estate.
However, life is not always a bed of roses for any family. In blended families, stepparents and stepchildren do not always see eye to eye and it’s not unknown for wills to be rewritten to favour biological children after the death of a partner.
So how do you ensure that your biological children benefit from your estate after your death?
I want my biological children to benefit
The solution is to set up a trust in your will. Doing so would ensure that both children and stepchildren get an equal share, if that’s what you want.
Your partner can also be a trustee and benefit from the assets. They will still be able to live in the house, for example, as long as the trustees agree.
But since the trust owns the assets, a partner won’t be able to exclude stepchildren by rewriting their will after your death, leaving your biological children nothing.
Says Pugh: “Trusts are known as bloodline planning because they help to ensure that your assets are passed down to your descendants.”