Make life easier for the step-children: Mary Wilson explains why unhappy complications arise when wills are absent or not updated on remarriage

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The Independent Online
ONLY 30 per cent of adults have made wills, according to the Law Society, which is why it is staging Make a Will Week this week.

Someone with a straightforward estate, and perhaps only one beneficiary, can make his or her own will using a form from a stationery shop. But it is advisable for a more complicated will to be drawn up by a solicitor.

Banks, libraries, citizens advice bureaux and the Solicitors Family Law Association can all supply lists of solicitors. Fees should be discussed in advance of any work being done.

Many people do not consider making a will until children come along. The prime purposes are then to appoint a guardian and to ensure that the children are provided for. It is even more essential that a will is made where there are step-children.

One in eight families are step- families, with 1 million children living full-time in such families. Inheritance becomes highly complicated. A booklet, Where There's a Will, There's a Way: Making a Will in a Stepfamily, written by solicitor Imogen Clout, provides a useful guide. It is published by the National Stepfamily Association and endorsed by the Solicitors Family Law Association.

Richard Jones of Cumberland Ellis Peirs, a firm of solicitors that helped to prepare the booklet, said: 'It can be very complicated where there is a husband and wife, probably both divorced or widowed, who have their own children and children between themselves.

'Especially with the Inheritance (Family and Dependants) Act 1975, it is possible that even if a will is made, a divorced partner can claim rights to the estate.'

Mr Jones gives the example of Jayne and Simon (not their real names) who were married and had two children of their own, Paul and Lisa.

Jayne also had three daughters (Alice, Mandy and Katherine) by her previous marriage to William, who had died a few weeks before Katherine was born.

Simon had a son, Martin, by his former wife Louise, who had divorced him 15 years ago.

Tragedy struck the family when Jayne and Simon died in a fire at a New Year's Eve party. Neither had made a new will and their previous wills were automatically revoked on marriage.

Although Simon survived for a few hours, Jayne died instantly, and under the statutory rules on intestacy, her modest estate of pounds 45,000 passed to Simon.

Simon had inherited nearly pounds 300,000 from his widowed mother and had a life assurance policy of pounds 250,000. His estate was about pounds 400,000 net. Under the Intestacy Rules, this is divisible equally between his three children, Paul, Lisa and Martin.

As no guardian had been appointed, a home had to be found for the children, except for Martin who was living with his mother. Jayne's three daughers received nothing from either estate. They will be able to make a claim for a share of the estate, but this will be costly and time-consuming. A further complication is that Simon's former wife is contemplating a claim, a step that could not have been avoided by making wills.

If Simon had died first, his son by his first marriage would be out in the cold while Paul and Lisa and Jayne's three daughters from her previous marriage would inherit.

Any financial planning, arrangements for the children and wills that had been drawn up for the first family need to be reviewed at the time of death and divorce. When parents start a new relationship, another review is needed again. If the new couple do not marry, the new partner is not legally a step-parent. So a will becomes of even more importance.

National Stepfamily Association, 071- 372 0844. Solicitors Family Law Association, 0689 850227.

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