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Arguments surrounding inheritance and Wills within step-families are not uncommon. Debbie McGee, wife of Paul Daniels was in the news after her step-son complained that she had failed to uphold her promise to look after him following the death of his father. Paul Daniels was a celebrity magician and entertainer who passed away in March this year, leaving the majority of his £1.5 million estate to his wife Debbie McGee. The estate was significantly affected by debts and costs leaving less than £500,000 to Ms McGee.

Paul Jr said that his father’s widow promised she would look after him and his two brothers financially, instead he said she closed down the family business they ran in Wigan leaving him without a job, which he said left him unable to pay his rent and almost homeless.

Unfortunately within step families, being left out of a will is a common occurrence, sometimes a husband and wife with children from a previous relationship will promise each other to take care of the children if the other should die, and then inherit and fail to fulfil that promise.

What can parents and step-parents learn from this?

This case highlights the issue that parents and step-parents need to have something in writing if they want to guarantee that their children will be left with something after they die.  Mirror Wills leaving everything to each other and then to the children, will not necessarily protect your children as, when you have died, your spouse will be able to change their Will and cut your children out.

The best way to protect your children is to either include specific gifts to them in your Will or more commonly, use your home to provide somewhere for your spouse to live but ensure the value will ultimately pass to your children.

It is possible for children to challenge a Will if they have not been reasonably provided for, however these claims can be difficult to prove, not to mention costly and stressful for all of those involved.

Are you obliged to take care of others if you inherit?

Simply – no.

When you are left assets within a Will they become yours and it is up to you what you do with them.  There may be a moral obligation to take care of your step children but there is no legal obligation to do so.

The only way to ensure that your children will benefit from your estate is to include relevant provisions in your Will and not leave it to chance that your spouse will fulfil your wishes.

Our experienced and knowledgeable solicitors will offer you the specialist advice you require, but also guide you through wider issues which you may not have thought about, such as inheritance tax, incorporating trusts to protect your estate and the people who are set to benefit. To speak to a member of our team about your will, contact the Wills, Trusts and Probate team on 0161 930 5151, email actonit@gorvins.com or fill in our online contact form and we will get back in touch for a confidential discussion.