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Estate Planning and Changing Family Structures

Extracted from an article by Fraser and Fraser in ‘Today’s Wills & Probate’, Dated Feb 22, 2022

In the past couple years, figures released by the ONS indicate the structures of UK families and households are continually changing shape. 30 years ago, a “traditional” family was the norm, with this family structure considered to be a husband and wife who married at an early age, bought a home and had children.

According to Trend Monitor, while married or civil partners remain the most common family type in 2019, there were 2.9 million lone parent families (14.9% in the UK) and the number of people living alone has increased by a fifth over the last 20 years. The modern family represent one third of family structures which include blended, multi-generational, same sex or single parent; this change in family structure represents the world we live in and is growing increasingly common.

There has been a significant growth in the number of family units comprised of unmarried partners. The laws that protect married couples may not apply to an unmarried couple. Statistically, same sex couples are more likely to cohabit rather than marry or enter a civil partnership. However, cohabitation is not a legal status for any couple, regardless of sexual orientation.

Same sex couples are also more likely to face having to navigating complex dynamics with family members who may not accept them. This can leave them in a more vulnerable position to have their wills contested by unsupportive family members, or have custody battles over non-biological children (surrogate or adoption) in the event of the biological parent’s death.

If a family member is transgender, the traditional legal documents may refer to that person using pronouns and it is possible that the transgender family member could lose status as a beneficiary if the name/pronouns do not match. Under the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which came into force on 4th April 2005, an individual’s new affirmed gender cannot be legally recognised until they have secured a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). Therefore, for any wills that have been made since 4th April 2005 and before a British Trans person has obtained a GRC, the change of gender will not be recognised in the will.

The idea of planning for our death is daunting and often something people put off. The Health and Retirement study findings showed that more complex families are less likely to have a plan. It found divorced parents as the highest respondents where 62% did not have a will, followed by parents that had no contact (with at least one adult child for over a year) at 59% and those with stepchildren at 49%. For families that do not meet the traditional structure, this can affect the way their estate is distributed, as much of estate planning presumes a traditional family unit but these days the non-traditional family unity is the clear majority.

Without a will in place, the estate passes in accordance with the laws of Intestacy. Who is entitled to an intestate estate? The Administration of Estates Act (1925) determines the order of entitlement.

If you would like to discuss a Will or an estate please contact Helena Grady  on (0114 2588899).  Helena is a Solicitor and member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) with many years’ experience.

Fogwill & Jones Legal Services Limited is an independent niche law firm that trades alongside Fogwill & Jones Wealth Management Limited. The businesses are entirely separate and regulated by different bodies.  The only connection is that they are both owned by Colin Fogwill.  The benefit to our clients is that when financial advice is needed alongside legal advice, these services are available at one location.

Fogwill & Jones (Legal Services) Limited remains open during these unprecedented times.  We are conducting meetings with our clients via Zoom, on the telephone or face to face