Thursday, 11 February 2021
The comedian Ricky Gervais once joked “Where there’s a Will – there’s a relative!” It is certainly true that Wills and family disputes can, sadly, go hand in hand at times.
A case involving a family dispute over a Will recently made the news. Joyce Greenwood, who died aged 93 last year, drew up a “secret” Will that prevented her two stepdaughters from inheriting their late father’s savings and home in Perthshire. His daughter, Anne Aitken, said she suffered nightmares after the shock news from her stepmother’s solicitors. She said she had not been aware of any family rift and was perplexed as to why her stepmother had chosen to support charities that appear to have no connection to her or the rest of the family.
“We’ve been told there is nothing we can do,” said Anne. “As stepchildren, we are not allowed to challenge a Will, although adopted children can. We were told we were not family, even though I lived with my stepmother since I was 10.”
Anne was just six years old when her mother was killed in a road crash in Aberdeen. Her father remarried four years later. Around 20 years ago, the couple moved out of the family home at Stonehaven to a smaller property in Auchterarder. Mr Greenwood died in 2006. Anne said he left his estate to his wife, believing that on her death “she would do the right thing” and pass on the estate to his children. After his death, Mrs Greenwood drew up a Will leaving most of the estate to her two stepdaughters, with a small legacy going to charity.
However, unknown to the family, Mrs Greenwood actually changed her Will in 2016. The majority of her £600,000 estate will go to Alzheimer’s Society and Macular Degeneration, with a small legacy going to the Arthritis and Stroke Association.
“She did it without telling anyone,” Anne said. “So it came as a complete surprise. My stepmother never worked, so the estate was all of my father’s hard-earned money.”
Anne is now calling for a change in Scots law to give increased inheritance rights to stepchildren. Stepchildren currently have no rights to make a claim upon a step-parent’s estate, irrespective of whether the step-parent has previously inherited from the estate of the step-child’s biological parent.
This case is an example of “sideways disinheritance” where children can lose out due to their step-parent changing their Will. Blended families (where people have remarried) are increasingly common nowadays and this case illustrates the importance of obtaining expert advice when Wills are prepared. The issue of “sideways disinheritance” can be addressed by having certain trust arrangements in place in Wills and this is an area we often advise clients on.
At Stevenson Marshall, we have a team of highly experienced Solicitors ready to help you make a Will. If you would like to discuss Wills or indeed any other aspect of Lifetime Legal planning then please contact one of our Lifetime Legal team on 01383 721141.