What is a ‘child of the family’?

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What is a ‘child of the family’? Inheritance dispute lawyer Naomi Ireson looks at a legal concept that can be so important to inheritance claims made by children against their parent’s estate. It is relevant where the claimant is not the biological birth child of the deceased.

In order to bring a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, you must show you fall within one of the five categories of applicants. In broad terms these are:

  1. spouse;
  2. former spouse;
  3. unmarried partner and cohabitee of at least 2 years;
  4. child of the deceased;
  5. child of the family; and
  6. any person who was being maintained by the deceased at the time of their death

So what is a ‘child of the family’?

The Inheritance Act defines a ‘child of the family’ as:

“any person (not being a child of the deceased) who in 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 at any time stood in the role of a parent, was treated by the deceased as a child of the family”

The Inheritance Act confirms that “family” includes a family in which the deceased and the applicant were the only members.

Furthermore:

  1. a ‘child of the family’ is not restricted to infant children. An adult can bring a claim as child of the family;
  2. the applicant must demonstrate they were treated by the deceased as a ‘child of the family’;
  3. the deceased must have assumed the position of a parent towards the applicant, with the attendant responsibilities and privileges of that relationship;
  4. a ‘child of the family’ means something more than a display of mere affection, kindness or hospitality;
  5. the court will look closely at the relationship between the deceased and the applicant; and
  6. a ‘child of the family’ claim is not limited to step children.

Successful ‘child of the family’ claims

The leading ‘child of the family’ case is Re Leach 1986. That was a successful claim by a 55 year old stepdaughter against the estate of her stepmother. The claimant had not lived in the same house as the deceased, nor had she been maintained by her. Nevertheless, the court agreed that the deceased had assumed responsibility for the claimant and treated her as her daughter.  A key factor in that case was the closeness of the relationship.

In another successful ‘child of the family’ case, the claimant, who was in his late 40s, made a claim against the estate of his stepfather. When the claimant was 13 the man became a lodger at his mother’s property. He then began a relationship with his mother who he married when the claimant was in his 30s. In later years the claimant cared for his stepfather when he was unwell. The court allowed the claim on the basis the deceased had treated the claimant as his own child. The claimant was awarded approximately one half of the estate given the closeness of their relationship. The estate would otherwise have passed under the rules of intestacy to the deceased’s three sisters.

How we can help

If you are looking for solicitors to bring an Inheritance Act claim which involves reliance on the principle of the ‘child of the family’, then please call our free legal helpline on 0808 139 1606 for a free case assessment and details of No Win, No Fee funding or email us at [email protected]