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a case study of a recent claim involving an adult stepchild

Adult stepchildren and can they win

Adult stepchildren can win a claim against a stepfather or stepmother’s Will in circumstances where they have been unfairly treated. In this particular case (which we have recently settled) our client (the adult stepchild) was already an adult (just over 20 years old) when her mother married her stepfather. There were no further children. Her stepfather had his own child (a son) and our client’s mother had two children of her own including our client. We suspected (although there was no evidence) that our client’s mother brought a little of her own money into the estate the bulk of which was though comprised money from her stepfather.

Initially our client’s mother and stepfather made joint Wills and our client was a beneficiary;
although after our client’s mother’s death the stepfather changed his Will (twice) to solely
benefit his blood related son. This although by no means unusual was a little curious because
our client and her stepfather lived in close proximity, miles from the son and maintained a
very close and loving relationship. Our client had her who children whom the stepfather
appeared to adore as their grandad.

What claims by the adult stepchild could be brought?

There was only really one prospective claim in this instance; a claim for financial provision
against the stepfather’s estate pursuant to s. 2 of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and
Dependants) Act 1975 (“the Act”). It was not possible to bring a claim against the legal
validity of his last Wills (of which there would have been two to to contest before one could
conceivably rely on the mirror Will which he had made with our client’s mother). In
particular, there was no suggestion there was anything wrong with these Wills (except for the fact that our client was not in them!) and each had been dealt with by Solicitors.

Claims by adult stepchildren for financial provision under the Act

We have considered these in previous blogs, for example:


An adult stepchild can bring a claim for financial provision under the Act by virtue of s.
1(1)(d) and/or (e):

d)any person (not being a child of the deceased) [F4who 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;]

(e)any person (not being a person included in the foregoing paragraphs of this subsection) who immediately before the death of the deceased was being maintained, either wholly or partly, by the deceased;

However, it is not straightforward and in our particular case the right to bring a claim was a
hotly contested point. The defence quite simply was that the deceased (who had not been
maintaining our client to any significant extent) had not treated her as a “child of the family”
because when the stepfather married our client’s mother, she was already in her twenties.

There was also a question mark over our client’s financial needs; although this would have
been more difficult as a defence given she was disabled and on benefits.

As there was no compromise, eventually we were forced to issue court proceedings for our
client. The defence that our client was an adult when the marriage happened and therefore
cannot have been treated as a “child” of the family in the ordinary way of understanding the
meaning of that word continued. At a Directions hearing before a Judge of the High Court the point was considered further and garnered some support from the presiding Judge notwithstanding this was not the main trial and he would not have had before him all the elements of the case including the closeness of the relationship between our client and, her stepfather and between him and her children.

Re Leach (deceased) Leach v Lindeman and others 1986 2 AER 754 – TO THE RESCUE!

In Re Leach the point about an adult stepchild having already been an adult at the time of the
marriage was considered by the Court of Appeal who found that this did not stop a claim
under the Act. As per Slade LJ:

“….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… 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”

Notwithstanding, the fact that the Claimant (our client) was already an adult when the
deceased became her stepfather must and does have some impact; certainly one could see this in practice given the negative points from the presiding Judge during the Directions hearing
which we refer to above. Ultimately though he saw enough in the claim to order a Mediation which the parties attended and at which the claim was successfully resolved. Whilst not necessarily a guide, the settlement achieved was probably less than 50% of what one could normally expect in a claim of this nature. It was clear then that the claim was much weaker
than it ought ordinarily to have been but was nevertheless of sufficient strength to win. If you consider any of these facts and matters are of interest, are likely to apply to you, or you
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