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Children versus stepchildren – blended family inheritance disputes take centre stage

Children versus stepchildren – blended family inheritance disputes take centre stage

Inheritance battles are on the rise with the impact of second marriages and blended families directly affecting the increase in those disputing a loved one’s Will.

Just how bitter these fallouts can be is illustrated by one recent and ongoing court case which has seen the four children of inventor, Dr Jack Leonard, at loggerheads with his stepchildren over his final Will.

At stake is Dr Leonard’s £5.4 million estate which his Will divided between his two families with his stepchildren and their families receiving the same as his own children.

This decision, say Dr Leonard’s biological children, shows his lack of mental capacity at the time he made his last Will. They are challenging it and arguing their stepsiblings should get nothing.

However, Dr Leonard’s stepchildren from his second marriage say the Will merely reflects the love he had for all his family members from both his marriages and should stand.

And so, the legal battle begins with the final decision now awaiting a judge’s ruling.

What is the background to this blended family inheritance dispute?

Dr Jack Leonard, who died in 2019, was a successful business owner and inventor of one of the first foetal heart rate monitors.

He was married for 40 years to his first wife, Audrey, who died in 1998. Together they had four children – Megan, Sara, Jonathan and Andrew.

He married his second wife, Margaret, the year after Audrey’s death. The court heard that he had ‘an extraordinarily close, loving and devoted relationship’ with his second wife and her family.

In 2007, he made a Will, leaving his share of his Essex home to Margaret with most of the rest of his estate divided roughly five ways between her and his own four children.

However, in 2015, he made another Will. In this, he left the Essex house to Margaret and the rest of his estate in trust to her for life.

On her death, his children would receive their inheritance but would have to share it with their stepsiblings, Mark and Elizabeth, and the children of Jack’s deceased stepdaughter, Melanie.

Why does this blended family disagree on their inheritance?

Dr Leonard’s four children maintain, the court heard, that their father had a ‘consistent and long-standing wish’ that most of his estate should pass to them, as evidenced by the Will he made in 2007 after being married to Margaret for eight years.

They say he did not have mental capacity when he made his final Will in 2015, that it was prepared by a tax advisor and not a lawyer and that its’ implications were not explained to him before he signed it.

In contrast, his stepchildren’s barrister told the court that Dr Leonard was fully competent when he made the 2015 Will and that it reflected his desire to treat his second wife’s children ‘as his own’.

How are inheritance claims solved?

If you are unhappy with a Will you may be able to contest it under The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

This allows eligible participants to bring a claim against the estate of a deceased person where ‘reasonable financial provision’ has not been made for them under the terms of the Will or if there was no Will.

The aim of specialist contentious probate lawyers like Wards Solicitors is always to try to settle any case out of court to minimise stress, upset and costs.

How do you claim under the Inheritance Act?

We have prepared three legal guides to help you:

Get in touch

If you would like to contest or defend a Will, the help of a specialist lawyer is vital as every case needs to be looked at on an individual basis. Time limits also apply.

For help and advice, please contact Wards Solicitors’ Contentious Trusts and Probate Team.

Our lawyers are members of the Association of Contentious Trusts and Probate Specialists (ACTAPS), the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) and the Law Society’s Probate Panel. All demand an elevated level of expertise and up to date knowledge from their members.

Wards Solicitors’ is praised by the Legal 500 Guide 2024 for fielding a team of contentious probate experts regularly instructed on complex and high-value disputes and with a strong presence across the South West.

Head of the team, Elizabeth Fry, is highlighted as a key lawyer with two decades of experience specialising in high value and multi-jurisdictional matters.

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