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Protecting your children in case you die

No-one wants to think about dying. But, if you've got children, you should plan ahead for their sakes. There are two issues you need to sort out:-

  • what you want to leave them; and

    For step-parents

    If you have step-children they won't inherit anything from you automatically if you die without making a will. If they were dependent on you for financial support, they might be able to apply to court for some provision to be made for them but this isn't something you should rely on. If you'd like them to inherit from you, you need to make a will.

  • who you want to look after them if you were to die while they’re still young.

You can do both of these things by making a will.

Wills and inheritance

If you die without making a will, the law decides who inherits your money and property. It will not be based upon your wishes or even what is sensible for people in your situation. If you are an unmarried parent, everything you leave behind will be divided equally between your children. Your partner won't get anything automatically. If they were dependent on you for financial support, they might be able to apply to court for some provision to be made for them - but this is far from ideal and will take a great deal of money, effort and stress. Going to court is probably the last thing they’ll want to face at such a difficult time.

Denise's story Isabelle with makeup new

"I divorced Sean's dad when Sean was just a toddler. A couple of years later I met Ian and we'd been together ever since. We had a boy of our own, Carl, but Ian has always treated both of them equally - as if Sean was his own son too. In fact I doubt Sean can even remember his real dad.

But Ian died a year ago and he'd never got round to making a will. I've since found out that this means Carl inherits everything: Sean and I aren't entitled to anything automatically. I know that's not what Ian would have wanted. I know he would have wanted to provide for all of us so I'm trying to make a claim against his estate at the moment. But it's so stressful, trying to hold everything together on my own. I just wish we'd both thought about making wills before it came to this."


Even worse, is if you die while you are still technically married to someone else - no matter how long ago you split up - your ex-husband or wife will get all your personal possessions, the first £250,000 of your property and savings and a life interest in half of anything that is left - not your current partner, your children, or your step-children. So, make sure you make a will!

For more information on making a will, download our guide Wills & LivingTogether (490 KB)

If you have children under the age of 18, you will need to think about how you will provide for them in your will. If you want to leave them money or property you will need to set up a ‘trust’. You should get advice from a solicitor about how to do this.

Find your nearest solicitor who specialises in will-making by visiting the Law Society website (see 'links to other websites')

Who will look after your children?


If you are an unmarried mother, and you would want your children’s father to look after your children if you were to die, make sure that the father either has PR or that you have appointed him as guardian (which will also give him PR). Otherwise, he will have to go through the stress and expense of having to apply to court for PR on your death. Unmarried mothers, of course, have PR automatically.

It’s best to appoint a guardian in your will, because then you can also set out what financial help they should be given for looking after your children. But it will work just as well in any written document, as long as you date and sign it.

Once you have appointed a guardian,it will only take effect after your death. Until then, the guardian will have no rights or responsibilities towards your child/children.

How to appoint a guardian (94 KB) Click here to download our leaflet which includes a handy form, or write out your own using the wording below.

Appointment of Guardian

For step-parents
If you are a step-parent and you play a big part in the children’s lives, it might make sense for you to be appointed as guardian in the event of your partner's death. Be aware that, if there is another parent who has PR, the appointment might not work automatically. You should get some legal advice.

In accordance with section 5 of the Children Act 1989

I [insert your full name]
………………………………………………………
………………………………………………………
appoint [insert name(s)]
………………………………………………………
………………………………………………………
………………………………………………………
of[insert address(es])
………………………………………………………
………………………………………………………
………………………………………………………
………………………………………………………
………………………………………………………
to be the guardian[s] of my child[ren]
[insert the child(ren)’s names and dates of birth]
………………………………………………………
………………………………………………………
………………………………………………………
………………………………………………………
Signed [sign your signature ]
………………………………………………………
………………………………………………………
Dated [insert the date]
………………………………………………………
………………………………………………………

  • You must sign and date the document and put it in a safe place.
  • Tell the people whom you have appointed and give them a copy of it too.
    It would also be sensible to tell other family members, so that you avoid any sort of quarrel after your death.
  • If you are a couple and both have PR (and you are not married or in a civil partnership) and you want to appoint a guardian for your children in the event of you both dying, you should each complete a form.

This appointment will only take effect after your death.

October 2010

Get advice

Need help with a problem? Find advice services and solicitors near you who can help you solve your problem. Many people are able to get free help and advice.

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If you have children under 18, have you appointed a guardian?

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