I think it’s a shame in some ways that we estimate about one in four of our clients have an estranged child, to differing degrees. Typically, there is at least one child that they haven’t spoken with for one or more years and in some cases, for quite a long time.
Estrangement is a hard subject to deal with. We deal with a large number of clients, so we know how regularly this occurs and how to approach it. I always notice that clients are always a bit apprehensive to discuss estrangements, sometimes embarrassed. One thing that strikes me is that they think this situation is unique to them, a problem only they are suffering with. Suffering is the right word because it isn’t a position that anyone is necessarily pleased or happy to be in. The main problem it poses to our client’s is a parental dilemma as to the message they should ultimately leave for that child or children. Generally speaking, they come to us with little idea of how to deal with this problem. Our advice is based on a tremendous amount of similar client experiences combined with a thorough knowledge of current law relating to wills and inheritance.
Each case is unique in its own way, but the problems do have similarities. When clients approach us, their thoughts are often unclear because of worry and stress and it is easy for them to feel like they are forced into a corner when it comes to producing a will.
Typically, when a client visits our office, they will initially say for example, that they have three children. Two they have a good relationship with and one that they haven’t spoken with for an extended period of time. They come in wanting to leave everything to the two children that they are close too and at this point, we try and get them to take a step back and look at some of the issues, both legally and emotionally, around what they’ve just said.
From our experience, it isn’t always the child your estranged from that has caused the issue, it’s usually someone close to them. The problem often stems from perhaps a son-in-law or daughter-in-law that’s creating a wedge between the child and their parents, be that intentionally or unintentionally. The first thing we say to them is that there may be issues that they may not have considered. The first one is that when our clients pass away, these children are ultimately siblings and by leaving one out, how will that impact on their relationships with one another? Clearly, the chances are that this could create an even bigger rift between them.
The second problem is there is legislation in place that would allow a disinherited child to perhaps make a claim against the estate for various reasons. They could potentially claim that you were ‘encouraged’ to not include that child in their will or that you intended to include them but failed to update the will. These are just a couple of pitfalls that can arise, and this can be costly financially and emotionally to all involved. If these cases move on to litigation, then ultimately it becomes a battle which further exacerbates the void between siblings. The costs of litigation can be extensive so really, the result ends up as an unsatisfactory one. With all the problems litigation brings, you’ll want to prevent it from reaching that stage. When producing your Will, you want to know with certainty that your family and children are looked after and that they will one day benefit from your hard work, not have it wasted on a long, drawn out legal process
Quite often the solution isn’t what our clients think they’re going to hear, but our advice is to include that child in their Will in some shape or form. The reason we do that is that, should they try and claim down the line, the courts are more likely to look favourably on a Will where they are included than excluded. This also applies when people leave a nominal figure, as it can be interpreted by the courts as spiteful or malicious – therefore, we recommend a reasonable percentage. There’s no set rule, if you had three children, for example, it could be split 45% to one child, 45% to the other and 10% to the estranged child. The other advantage of this is it sends a clear signal to all of these children, that you are not the person that the estranged child has perhaps made you out to be. Despite all of the battles and perceived disagreement, you still included them. As a firm, what we say is a Will isn’t just about the money, it’s about a legacy and a message that you leave behind. The question is do you want to leave harmony or do you want to leave discord?
If any of the above sounds familiar or is affecting you and your family, then please feel free to give us a call on 0800 788 0500 and speak to us in conﬁdence to discuss your situation in more detail, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.