Garland Waddington

While television shows like The Brady Bunch and Modern Family make entertaining viewing, the reality is that once-harmonious blended families can soon turn into warring parties if a parent or step parent forgets to update their will.

Ken Waddington a Partner at Garland Waddington Solicitors, Maroochydore, reminds us that many Australians wills were often out of date and failed to reflect current family circumstances.

Public Trustee data, cited in the “Having the Last Word” report1 by The University of Queensland, showed that complexity of the family relationship was a trigger in 62 percent of disputes over estates.

New spouses or partners, separation or divorce and the addition of step families were all listed as factors likely to lead to a will challenge.

Close to 6 percent of families in Australia include step children, and determining who gets what under a will is often based on the extent to which children are seen to be children of both parties.

Factors such as the length and timing of the relationship, the age of the step children at the time, and the degree of active parenting all come into play when will-makers decide how to apportion their estate.

“One of the major grey areas in the past has been whether a step child of a de facto relationship could make a claim against the estate of their step parent,” Mr Waddington said.

Changes to the Queensland Succession Act, made in June this year, have now made it clear that the meaning of ‘step child’ includes the child of a party to a de facto relationship.

“This means that a step child to a de facto relationship is eligible to make a claim against the estate of their step parent – but only if their step parent and biological parent were in a relationship at the time of their death.”

Mr Waddington indicated that estate matters could become complicated if parties in a de facto relationship with step children or joint children had failed to revise their wills, dying with out of date wills listing ex-partners or biological children as sole beneficiaries.

“For example, in certain circumstances, adult children from a previous relationship could claim against the estate of their step parent, regardless of whether or not they had been a part of the new blended family or had a close relationship with the step parent.”

“Just another reason why it’s so important for people to update their wills to provide clear direction on how they want to provide for their partner, step children and biological children from current and past relationships,” he said.

For more information in relation to a family law matter or to obtain professional advice, visit www.garlandwaddington.com.au