Inheritance and the Impact of Intestacy on Stepchildren

In an era of increasingly fluid family relationships, many children are brought up by step-parents – but what is the consequence of that social change in terms of inheritance? The High Court addressed that issue in a guideline ruling.

The case concerned a stepson who, from a young age, was brought up by his stepfather, who had no children of his own. After his mother and stepfather divorced, he continued to live with the latter. When the stepfather died without making a will, his estate passed automatically to his cousins. The stepson received nothing because he was not his stepfather's biological child.

On the basis that he was financially dependent on his stepfather, the man launched proceedings under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, seeking reasonable provision from his estate. There was no dispute that he fell within the ambit of the Act in that his stepfather treated him as a member of his family.

The stepson contended that he was in substantial debt and struggling financially, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He was very close to his stepfather and his financial dependency on him had continued beyond his childhood. He claimed that his stepfather had assured him prior to his death that he had executed a will in which he would be provided for.

Ruling on the matter, the Court noted that, following the divorce, the stepfather had been granted custody of his stepson. He was formally responsible for providing the stepson with a home and support until he reached the age of 21. When the stepson turned 18, he changed his surname by deed poll to that of his stepfather.

One could only speculate as to why no will was found after the stepfather's death, but the Court was satisfied that the rules relating to intestacy had operated in a manner that denied the stepson reasonable provision from the estate. Proceeding on the basis that the estate was worth £195,000, the Court ordered that the stepson should receive £55,000 of that sum.