The two adult sons of actress and talk show panellist star Lynda Bellingham have announced plans to challenge their late mother’s will.
The former star of ITV’s Loose Women died in 2014 from cancer. Her will reportedly left everything to her third husband. Her sons claim their stepfather is depriving them of their inheritance by insisting that all of their mother’s money is tied up in properties.
Speaking to the Mail on Sunday, the brothers said that the money was not their primary motivation for their legal challenge. They said it was “about the fact that [the stepfather has] got control over everything my mother worked for her entire life, and we know that’s not what she wanted.”
Legal battles over a person’s will are not a new phenomenon. The increase in divorce and resulting complex family structures raise issues for those writing a will. Remarriage is on the increase. For many couples, there will be children from previous relationships, and they may also have children together. This can create problems, like the ones currently experienced by Lynda Bellingham’s family, which should be sorted out while the will maker is still alive rather than leaving it for the family to fight it out after death.
When advising a client who has remarried and who has children from a previous relationship, it is important to consider with the client what obligations they are under to all of their children as well as their spouse. Overall, people generally want a sense of fairness. That might mean leaving parts of their estate to their spouse and other parts to their children but it might also mean ensuring that their assets only pass to their children after the subsequent death of their spouse.
It is also important to establish the tax impact of any decisions and consider the use of trusts within a will to achieve protection for all parties. A trust is simply a legal relationship in which money or property is held by one person for another’s benefit.
Unfortunately the death of a parent can strain relationships between the surviving family members. This is particularly relevant in stepfamilies. Children can feel resentful if they have to wait until their stepparent dies before they receive what they regard is rightfully theirs. The stepparent may then go on to form a new relationship and might change their will to disinherit them.
These kinds of scenarios have resulted in a rapid rise in claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, which allows people to challenge a will if they feel they have been unjustly left out of it. However, litigation is expensive and can deplete the estate even further.
Quite simply, couples in a second marriage or relationship who have had children with a previous partner should always seek specialist advice to reduce the odds of a conflict developing after they have died.
Photo by Pat Scullion via Flickr