HomeMoneyInsurance & Legal

Blended families: How to navigate writing your will

Blended families: How to navigate writing your will
Modern family dynamics can be complicated and drawing up a will can be daunting. Trusts and estates practitioner Hannah Herbert shares why it's important to plan ahead
Across the world, families are more complex, diverse and intricately connected than ever. We all know that navigating family politics is difficult. It can become a major headache when the contrasting interests of partners and children from different relationships come together
Research carried out for the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) found that blended families have increased significantly in the past decade, with 96 per cent of estate planning professionals saying they now advise these families. Census data from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that the number of cohabiting couple families is growing faster than married couple and lone parent families.
"Across the world, families are more complex, diverse and intricately connected than ever"
When it comes to planning for the future, there is no longer a one-size-fits-all solution. And in many cases, legislation has failed to keep pace with changing family dynamics. So if you’re living in a blended or cohabiting family, don’t assume the law will distribute your wealth as you would like after your death. 
In this article, we highlight some of the implications of different family arrangements and offer advice on how to plan for your family’s future.

Divorce: Keep your will under review 

Divorce can leave your will in a mess
When you’re going through a divorce, updating your will may not be the first thing on your mind. But while divorce doesn’t automatically revoke your will, it can leave it in a mess. 
Once you’re divorced, any provisions in your will that include your ex-spouse will be ignored. So any gifts relating to them will be divided among other beneficiaries—which may not be what you want. What’s more, your existing will remains valid until you divorce, so if you die prior to the decree absolute, your soon-to-be ex-spouse will inherit in accordance with the will. 
What to do: 
  • If your spouse is named as executor, think about appointing someone else.
  • If your will leaves your estate to your spouse, you must update your will. If you don’t, once divorced, the gift to your ex-spouse will not take effect, and you will effectively die without a will (intestate).
  • Consider naming a guardian for your children in the event that something happens to you and your ex-spouse.

Re-marriage: Look after your blended family

If you re-marry or enter a new civil partnership, your existing will is automatically revoked—so you must make a new one. Without a will, your estate will be distributed under intestacy rules, which means your spouse will automatically inherit the first £250,000 and all your possessions. This could mean your children won’t inherit as much as you’d like.
What to do: 
  • Think about what you want for children from your first marriage, and any step-children from your new marriage. You could set up a trust that will allow your second spouse to benefit from your assets during his or her lifetime, with your children inheriting the assets later on.
  • If you own your matrimonial home as joint tenants, consider changing the ownership to "tenants in common". Whereas a surviving joint tenant will own 100 per cent of the matrimonial home on their spouse’s death, tenants in common can each specify who inherits their respective share of the matrimonial home on death.  
  • Where the matrimonial home is owned in unequal shares, a couple may choose to enter into a Declaration of Trust, which sets out each co-owner’s stake in the property. This will help to ensure that the beneficiaries of each co-owner’s will inherit the right amount. 
Image of a discount offer for a Which? will

Cohabitation: Make your wishes clear 

Cohabiting couple - blended families and wills
Couples who are not married or in a civil partnership have no rights to each other's property
Contrary to popular myth, there is no such thing as a "common-law" marriage in the UK. As in many other countries, couples in the UK who may be in long-term relationships but have not married or formed a civil partnership do not have rights to each other’s property. 
"That’s why it’s vital to draw up a will setting out your wishes now"
If you’re not married or in a civil partnership, you can’t rely on the law to distribute your finances if only one partner dies. That’s why it’s vital to draw up a will setting out your wishes now. It is also important to remember that the law will not automatically update a couple’s wills to reflect their separation, unless married or in a civil partnership. Unmarried couples should also remember to review their wills on separation.  

Keep communication open

As ever, we would recommend that families keep talking—especially when it comes to planning for the future. Having early and open conversations about wills and estate planning, can help everyone to feel involved, understood and considered in the process.
"Keeping everyone in the loop means there are no unpleasant surprises after your death"
Keeping everyone in the loop also means there are no unpleasant surprises after your death. That’s why, as your circumstances and relationships change, you should regularly revisit your will to ensure it remains up-to-date and continues to reflect your wishes.
For professional advice from a specialist, you can find a STEP member in your area who is qualified as a Trust and Estate Practitioner (TEP). The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), is a global professional body, comprising lawyers, accountants, trustees and other practitioners that help families plan for their futures.
Note: The guidance in this article applies to England and Wales. There are different laws in Scotland and other countries, so it’s important to consult a qualified adviser to help you make the right decisions. 
Need to write a will? The Which? online service is easy to use and full of guidance and advice, what is more, as a Reader's Digest customer, you can purchase any will writing service with 20% off
Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter