The Pitfalls of Step Families Executing Mirror Wills
MW’s Wendy Rixon, Associate Chartered Legal Executive in our Estate and Trust Dispute Team, discusses the common issue of step-children left out of their step-parent’s Will.
What is a Mirror Will
Associate – Estate/Trust Dispute Division
Mirror Wills are a common way for married couples to deal with their estates whereby each spouse leaves their estate to their spouse and then to their children. This can work fine in a standard (nuclear) family situation; but things can go wrong, particularly in step-families.
Problems arise because Mirror Wills leave no obligation on the surviving spouse to leave their estate in any particular way. Therefore even if the couple agree (or think they have agreed) between them on what should happen to their joint estate once they have died, unless their joint wishes have been properly put into force, anything can happen. Most commonly, a step-parent has, for whatever reason, decided to change their Will after their spouse’s death effectively disinheriting their step children.
I often get disappointed step children seeking advice who believe that because their parent and the step parent made Wills at the same time, in the same vein, that these are automatically mutual Wills. This is more often than not, not the case. However, if there is clear evidence that there was a binding agreement between the couple when they made their respective Wills the court can determine that the Wills were mutual Wills and therefore the terms are binding.
Can I Challenge a Mirror Will?
So what can we do for you if you find yourself in a situation where your parent’s estate has passed to your step-parent and your step-parent changes their Will after your parent’s death with the effect that your family inheritance passes outside the family?
Firstly, it has to be remembered that in English law a testator can leave his estate to whomever he chooses to. There is no obligation in this country to leave your estate to your children or any other dependent person. Therefore, the courts are loathe to upset people’s testamentary wishes without good reason. However, if your parent had always been very clear in his/her intentions that eventually his/her estate (or part thereof) would pass to you, it is understandable that there will be disappointment if the eventual position is otherwise. Therefore, we can look at the intention of your parent at the time the Will was made and see if there is any evidence that the Will was intended to be mutual or irrevocable.
We can also consider whether you can challenge the validity of your step-parent’s Will. For instance, he/she may have lost capacity following your parent’s death and may have not known or understood the implications of changing their Will or they may have been unduly influenced to make the Will the way they did by their own family or by a new partner or a carer. You would, however, need to be a disappointed beneficiary and be able to show that you would have been a recipient under an earlier Will.
We can also consider whether you would be eligible to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 as someone who was treated as a child of the deceased or had been financially dependant on the deceased. This was originally dependant on a marriage between the testator and the natural parent but the Inheritance and Trustees’ Powers Act 2014 widened the scope in this category, negating the need for the dependency to be part of a marriage for deaths after 1 October 2014.
We can help
At McMillan Williams, Our Mission is “to make quality legal services accessible to everyone” including those who find themselves disinherited from a step-parent’s estate.
Our specialist Estate and Trust Dispute Team are here to offer a helping hand and to guide you through the process of making a claim as quickly and painlessly as possible. If you would like to take advantage of our FREE CASE REVIEW, call us today on 020 3551 8550 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.