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CONTESTING A WILL – CAN A STEPCHILD BRING A CLAIM?

CAN A STEPCHILD BRING A CLAIM AGAINST THEIR (NON BLOOD) PARENTS ESTATE?

Clearly this is a common issue in will contest and will dispute claims. In short the answer is yes although there are certain situations where this isn’t possible the main one being where the legal validity of a Will is contested and there is no previous Will (or if there was a previous Will it was revoked by marriage for instance). Why is this an issue? Well quite simply if you successfully contest the legal validity of a Will and you are the stepchild of the deceased where there is no previous Will, you will get no benefit at all. Why not? Because under the rules of intestacy, your stepparents estate will pass to the nearest living blood relative. See for example our previous blog at https://www.willclaim.com/contesting-will-risks/ where we describe the following situation:

1. You are not close enough to ‘have an interest’ in the estate

The law makes it clear that only people who have an interest in the estate can challenge a will. And until recently, this was thought to be people who would benefit under the intestacy rules, had the deceased died without leaving a valid will. As we recently reported, the case of Randall v Randall suggests that there may be scope for widening the group of people who can bring a challenge to the validity of a will.

Whilst we suggested there might be scope for widening the group of people who can bring a challenge to the validity of a will, you need to be clear that there has to be a “purpose” to your claim (as a stepchild); there is no point in pursuing something which won’t benefit you.

There is an alternative, which is a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. Whilst this is broadly restricted to claims by the deceased’s spouse (husband or wife) and blood children, it can also apply to the following (section 1(1)(d)):

any person (not being a child of the deceased) [F4 who in relation to any marriage or civil partnership to which the deceased was at any time a party, or otherwise in relation to any family in which the deceased at any time stood in the role of a parent, was treated by the deceased as a child of the family;]

Plainly, this means stepchildren are also perfectly entitled to bring a claim for financial provision and this can include:

  • Adult stepchildren
  • Stepchildren who have never lived with the deceased
  • Stepchildren who have never been maintained by the deceased

We provide the authority for these matters below, but subject to this point, by section 3(3) of the ’75 Inheritance Act, the following is also provided:

court shall, in addition to the matters specifically mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (f) of that subsection, have regard to the manner in which the applicant was being or in which he might expect to be educated or trained, and where the application is made by virtue of section 1(1)(d) the court shall also have regard—

[F21(a)to whether the deceased maintained the applicant and, if so, to the length of time for which and basis on which the deceased did so, and to the extent of the contribution made by way of maintenance;

(aa)to whether and, if so, to what extent the deceased assumed responsibility for the maintenance of the applicant;]

(b)to whether in [F22 maintaining or assuming responsibility for maintaining the applicant] the deceased did so knowing that the applicant was not his own child;

(c)to the liability of any other person to maintain the applicant.

This then suggests the court is likely to consider stepchildren who haven’t been “brought up” by the deceased to have a weaker claim, than those who have.

Nevertheless, the question was largely “ignored” by the Court of Appeal in Re Leach (deceased) Leach v Lindeman and others 1986 2 All ER p754 ( https://swarb.co.uk/re-leachleach-v-lindeman-ca-1985/) when it found in favour of an adult stepdaughter who had never lived with her stepmother and whom had never been maintained by her. However, and to be clear, this appears because of the closeness of their relationship. Slade LJ confirmed the following:

“….I can see no reason why even an adult person may not be capable of qualifying under that subsection provided that the deceased has, as wife or husband (or widow or widower) under the relevant marriage, expressly or impliedly, assumed the position of a parent towards the applicant, with the attendant responsibilities and privileges of that relationship…..The matters set out in section 3(3)(a) are, counsel suggested, of vital importance…..so that the omission of any specific reference to them in the relevant parts of the judgment vitiates the whole of the deputy judges conclusions on these issues. I do not think that this point has any substance….I see no reason whatever to suppose that throughout his judgment he did not bear in mind and give due weight to the obvious fact that Mary had never during her life assumed responsibility for the plaintiff’s maintenance. The mere fact that she had never done so did not, of course, disqualify the plaintiff from seeking relief.

If you consider any of these facts and matters are likely to apply to you, or you would like to ask us for more information about our no win no fee arrangement, or you simply want us to assess your claim, then please do not hesitate to contact us for a confidential no strings chat.

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