Inheritance law hasn’t always recognised complex families, but in 2014, a key change was made which included a new definition of a ‘child of the family’.

Having separated parents is increasingly common these days and often, one or both of the person’s parents will go on to have another long-term partner, even if they don’t necessarily re-marry.

Some children are raised by grandparents, or other extended family members, and the role of parenting can be shared by a wider group of people. But the law has not always recognised more complex family structures.

Inheritance law for more complex families

This lack of recognition for more complex families is especially true with inheritance law. The intestacy laws, which govern what happens if someone dies without a Will, only recognise marriages and blood relations. Cohabitees and their children have no automatic rights on inheritance, however long and stable the relationship has been.

It was only relatively recently, through the changes made by the Inheritance and Trustees’ Powers Act 2014 (2014 Act) that amendments were made to the law on Wills and intestacy in attempt to recognise that many families do not have a ‘traditional’ structure.

One of the key changes brought in by the 2014 Act was to the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (1975 Act), and it addressed inheritance law for more complex families.

To be able to bring a claim against someone’s estate under the 1975 Act you need to have a specific type of relationship to the deceased. These ‘categories’ of claimant are listed in section 1 of the Act. The 2014 Act widened the categories of people who can make such a claim in attempt to modernism the 1975 Act to include less ‘typical’ family structures. This was done by including a ‘child of the family’ as a category of person who is able to bring a claim against an estate under the 1975 Act.

Who is a ‘child of the family’?

The definition of ‘child of the family’ is any person (not being a child of the deceased) that was treated by the deceases as a child of the family. This is in specific relation to any marriage or civil partnership to which the deceased was at any time a party, or otherwise in relation to any family in which the deceased had the role of a parent.

The most common scenario for this category of claimant is a step-child of the deceased who was raised by the deceased as a child.

But that is not the only relationship that could be included under this category. If it can be shown the deceased assumed role that was akin to a parent towards the applicant and treated them as their own child, the courts may consider the applicant be a ‘child of the family’.

To be clear, the applicant does not actually have to be a child but can be an adult, as long as they can show the deceased treated them as a ‘child of the family’ before they died. Nor does the applicant have to actually have lived with the deceased.

However, the courts will look carefully at the relationship between the deceased and the applicant, consider the closeness of that relationship and if there was any assumption of the responsibilities and privileges that come with being a parent by the deceased.

We would always encourage potential clients to call us to discuss whether they may bring a successful claim against their loved one’s estate and we will be happy to guide you through the process.

For more information about the 1975 act or inheritance claims you can make, you can see our previous article here or please get in touch for advice.