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What About the Children?

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Fortunately most of us will not have to deal with a sudden and unexpected death in the family. However when these events occur there are not only the inevitable grief and practical difficulties, but also quite often legal processes to deal with - large or small. This is particularly prevalent when the deceased was a parent of children either during the course of divorce proceedings or afterwards.

I am often asked how clients can protect themselves against this. The first point is that each of us should of course leave a will, naming guardians for our children and if possible appointing trustees for such capital as we will be leaving to our children on death.

It is also sensible to work out a contingency plan for trusted friends or family to care for the children if the worst should happen.

Even when no arrangements have been made issues can be resolved when parents die suddenly. In practice several young mothers have died during or shortly after proceedings.

One case comes to mind where the father who had not had contact for many years with his children found out that the mother had died, reappeared and demanded that the children live with him.

The children concerned were in their early teens and did not want to live with someone who was effectively a stranger. An application on behalf of the mother's sister for residence of the children was made and in the end a compromise was reached amicably between her and the father.

Obviously these situations need careful handling as everyone is very upset following a death in the family and such times do not help everyone to make an informed and clear decision.

In another case a father died suddenly leaving no provision for his divorced wife and their children, and leaving all he possessed to his very new partner. It was possible to make an application to court to obtain provision and there was also an appeal to his pension trustees for them to exercise their discretion in the children's favour - which they did.

It is helpful to be aware that even seemingly hopeless legal situations for relatives can be resolved by court applications or legal negotiation and usually on an amicable basis.

For further information contact Vanessa Fox by email: vanessafox@keeblehawson.co.uk or direct telephone: 0114 2906232.

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