Is it possible for someone to exclude a child from their will? We asked Sarah Coles from Hargreaves Lansdown to answer this tricky reader question.
A common question that can crop up regularly concerning wills is whether you can exclude close family relatives, or if legally you have to leave assets for them.
While this decision may surprise some people, it's a legitimate question to ask if you have your own reasons to exclude someone from a will.
Help from the loveMONEY Expert Panel
We asked Sarah Coles (pictured), personal finance analyst at investment firm Hargreaves Lansdown and member of the loveMONEY Expert Panel, to talk one reader who wants to exclude her daughter from her will through her options.
Here’s what she said:
Over the years, there can be all sorts of things that crop up that make you decide to leave someone out of your will.
It may be something as difficult as a breakdown in the relationship or as simple as having given them gifts during your lifetime and trying to even things up for the rest of your family in your will.
You might think that because this is your own money, you can leave it in any way you see fit. But it’s not always as easy as that, and your daughter may be able to challenge your decision after your death.
Under English and Welsh law, there are certain people who can bring a claim for what’s known as ‘reasonable provision’ in the six months after your death.
It’s laid out in the 1975 Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act, which states that wills should provide for anyone who is financially dependent on them.
This can include widows, widowers and surviving civil partners; divorced spouses or civil partners who haven’t remarried – unless it’s specifically excluded by the divorce settlement; children or those treated as children by the person who died; and anyone else who relied on them financially.
If your daughter is under the age of 18, if she lives with you, or if she’s dependent on you financially in any other way, your will is particularly vulnerable to challenge.
Usually, if she is an adult living independently, her case will be much weaker but depending on your circumstances, she may still have a claim.
One of the most high-profile cases of recent years saw an adult only-child challenge the will of her estranged mother, who’d left her estate to charity.
She won because in these specific circumstances, she was in a difficult financial position and her mother had no connection to the charities she left her money to.
You can’t stop your daughter bringing a claim, but you can give the court any information that would strengthen the case against her.
The best way to do this in advance is to write a letter you keep with your will, explaining exactly why you aren’t including your daughter.
It’s best not to put this in the will itself as wills are made public and it could inflame the situation.
The other grounds on which she could challenge a will is that it hasn’t been drawn up properly.
If she gets this thrown out, any previous will could apply instead – or if there is no previous will, you could die intestate. In either circumstance, she could end up benefitting.
You should be careful not to make any small mistakes that may invalidate the will.
So, for example, it needs to be signed and witnessed properly. You also need to be sure that the will doesn’t contradict itself, and that everything is laid out clearly.
There have been families drawn into legal battles over small things such as someone leaving their ‘principal’ car to a member of the family – without making it clear whether they meant the valuable antique that was carefully looked after for years, or the battered old family run-around.
The letter you leave with your will should also make it clear you’re making a rational decision in sound mind and you fully understand the value of your estate and the consequences of your decisions.
It’s easier to make a mistake if you’re writing a DIY will, so if you think your daughter may challenge it, consider getting a professional to draw it up to be on the safe side.
All of these things will help protect your wishes if your daughter challenges your will but can’t guarantee success.
The only way you can really have total control of gifts you leave to your family is to consider giving what you can afford before you die.
Finally, if you want to write someone out of your will, you need to be absolutely clear this is something you want, as this can be devastating for the person concerned, and there’s no going back after you’ve passed away.
If you are worried about what they will do with the money, one alternative is to leave it in trust for them instead.
That way they can benefit from an income from it, and won’t be cut off altogether, and yet they’ll be protected from making a mistake with their inheritance.
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