Blended families and step-families have become increasingly common across Australia, creating a new challenge for those considering the estate planning process.
The Australian Institute of Family Studies estimates that around 10 per cent of families fall into this category, with a further 10 per cent consisting of single-parent households.
For those drafting a will in a blended or step-family, it is important to understand what role step-children can play and what provision, if any, might be necessary to avoid an estate dispute in the future.
Step-children do not have an automatic right to receive a provision in the same way that a person's biological children do. However, step-children may be able to make a claim on the estate if they can prove they have at any time been wholly or partly dependant on the will maker and a member of the same household as the will maker. A step-child making a claim does not have to prove they were necessarily financially dependent on the will maker.
While step-children may need to be included in the estate planning process, parents within a blended family will also need to consider how their estate is split in the event that they die.
For example, many couples who both have children from previous relationships may want to make one another the primary beneficiary of their estate, and then provide for their children once they both have passed away.
While this might seem like a simple solution, in a blended family it can often occur that the surviving party then revises their own will to the exclusion of their step-children. In this situation, the step-children may not see any portion of their parent's estate. This scenario illustrates the issues that can arise around blended families and estate planning. For those involved, sometimes the best solution is for the will maker to ensure both their children and new partner are provided for during the estate planning process, while also considering the position of their step-children.
Finally, step-children will not automatically be entitled to a share of an estate if a person passes away intestate - that is, without a will in place. The exception to this is where the will maker has formally adopted their step-children prior to their passing, which will mean the child qualifies for a share of the estate.
To learn more about how step-children are affected by the estate planning process, and to begin the process of writing your own will, make sure to seek out the expertise of a wills and estates lawyer.