Claire Carberry, Private Client Solicitor looks at the ever evolving family structure and whether legislation has kept pace with the changes to the way we live together.
New research published by the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), the global professional association for practitioners advising families across generations, has highlighted a significant increase in ‘blended families’. Large numbers of advisers had seen an increase in multi-jurisdictional families; cohabiting families; and mixed-ethnicity families. More than half had seen an increase in same-sex relationships and non-biological children in the families they advise.
These findings are perhaps not surprising as ‘traditional’ family structures have become less common. Even a quick glance at my own wider family shows step-children, foster children, cross-border and same-sex relationships, previously-unheard-of children, co-habitees and, sadly, warring factions.
Much of our legislation, however, still follows and upholds the concept of the traditional domestic family structure. Co-habitees still have little in the way of protection and the legal definitions of children and other family members are both inconsistent and discriminatory. In addition, those families with international elements often struggle to reconcile the legal and cultural differences across jurisdictions. It’s dangerous to assume that the law has moved on in the same way.
Planning is vital – even where, arguably, the family is not particularly wealthy. No-one has a magic wand that makes everyone happy, however, acknowledging complex and difficult family structures and relationships can help minimise the risk of conflict in the future. Clear, early, open and ongoing communication and advice from a variety of advisors can help iron out potential issues and provide a structure should conflict arise.
No two families are the same – each will have their own ‘issues’ and will need their own ‘solutions’. As the legislation shows, one size certainly does not fit all. What you want might not be what you need and a little time and advice now may help avoid more costs and complexity in the future. Hopefully it will also keep your family together, regardless of its structure.
If you have a complex family and would like to plan for the future to ensure that your loved ones are protected, please get in touch with us. Our experienced team of Private Client Solicitors will guide you through Estate Planning which can include lifetime gifting, tax advice, asset protection and planning for later life and death. We advise individuals in both short term and long term planning and try to help you plan and manage your assets throughout your life, with the greatest amount of flexibility.
Please visit https://www.step.org/research-reports/modern-families to download a copy of the STEP research report, “Meeting the Needs of Modern Families”.