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Inheritance rights for stepchildren

Blended families are on the rise in modern Britain. As the familial landscape evolves, so too do the complexities of inheritance. Balancing the needs and interests of all family members is a challenge for many individuals managing blended family dynamics.

If somebody dies without a Will, otherwise known as dying intestate, the Intestacy Rules, outlined in the Administration of Estates Act 1925, dictate how an estate should be distributed.

Broadly, the order in which beneficiaries inherit under the intestacy rules are as follows:

  1. Spouse
  2. Children
  3. Grandchildren
  4. Other relatives
  5. The Crown

Notably, the definition of children does not extend to stepchildren. Consequently, stepchildren do not possess an absolute entitlement to inherit from their stepparent’s estate in cases where no will exists. If a stepparent chooses to adopt their stepchild, then the adopted stepchild child will automatically inherit following the rules of intestacy.

If a Will does exist, and the deceased opts to leave their estate to their children, stepchildren are not automatically included under this provision, unless explicitly stated within the Will.

If a stepchild believes that they have been unfairly excluded from a Will, they can bring a claim against their stepparent’s estate for financial provision under the Inheritance Act 1975. This claim must be bought within six months of the administration of the Grant of Probate. The stepchild must demonstrate that their relationship with their stepparent resembled that of a parent and child, that they were financially dependent upon their stepparent, and that the Will either makes inadequate provision for them or no Will exists at all.

Following the case of Higgins v Morgan & Ors [2021] EWHC 2846, a stepson bought a claim against his stepfather’s estate after he died intestate. The court ruled in favour of the stepson and found that he was entitled to monies from the estate. This decision was grounded on evidence that the stepson’s relationship with his stepfather was akin to that of a parent and child, that he had a financial need, and was promised that he would be provided for.

In summary, if you would like your stepchild to inherit from your estate, then you will need to prepare a Will and make explicit provision for them. Clearly stipulating their name and the fact that they are your ‘stepchild’ may help to solidify your intention to leave your estate to them.