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17 August 2018 | Comment | Article by Eleanor Evans TEP

Family estrangement and bereavement

I recently listened to a BBC Radio 4 programme on estrangement, and the effect this can have on families. Family estrangement is incredibly common, and most of us probably know (or are part of) families where a relative has become estranged for one reason or another.

Hugh James administers a large number of deceased persons’ estates, and we regularly see cases involving estrangements; for example, where children have been cut out of wills, or arguments between family members have led to contact coming to an end.

Sadly, the death of a loved one can bring these issues to the fore, particularly where there is perceived to be unfairness in the way the deceased has chosen to leave their estate in their will. People making wills have freedom of choice about how to leave their estates, and may have what they consider to be good reasons for leaving out certain family members. This can, however, give rise to difficult situations for those left behind.

Whilst it is often very difficult to heal family rifts, if you do wish to try and build bridges with estranged relatives following the death of a loved one, there are several things you could consider.

The funeral

We often speak to family members who are upset because they have not been made aware of details of the funeral. You may wish to consider communicating details of the funeral to all relatives, so that everyone has the opportunity to attend. If you no longer have contact details for some relatives, consider using social media or an advertisement in the local press.

For further information

We can provide advice and support to personal representatives and beneficiaries of estates regarding these issues. Please contact us on 029 2039 1058, or using the form below.

The house clearance

Personal items belonging to the deceased can have great sentimental value. Problems can arise if relatives feel they have not been included in discussions about how to deal with the items. If there are no specific provisions in the will regarding personal items, it may be appropriate for the estate beneficiaries to meet at the deceased’s home to go through the items and decide what is to happen to them.

Deeds of variation

The radio programme included the story of a woman who had been left her mother’s house in her will. This had upset her sister, who received nothing. She was, however, quite happy to share the proceeds of sale of the house with her sister, and hoped this might help to re-build their relationship. If this was an estate Hugh James had been administering, I would have suggested she consider a deed of variation. This would have changed the terms of the will, so it was as if the deceased had left the house between her two daughters.


An alternative to a deed of variation is a straightforward gift from the beneficiary of the estate to another family member. This may have tax implications for the person making the gift.

Author bio

Eleanor Evans TEP


Eleanor is Head of the Trusts and Estates Administration Department, a large team dealing with estates and trusts administration on behalf of financial institution and trust corporation clients.  Eleanor is a specialist in wills, probate, tax and trusts, and is a full member of STEP (the Society of Trusts and Estates Practitioners).  She is also a committee member of the STEP Wales branch.

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