Where beneficiaries of the estate want to change or redirect their inheritance entitlement, they need to make a ‘variation’ in writing. While a formal document does not need to be used, certain stringent requirements need to be met. As a result, most people use a document called a deed of variation to vary an inheritance. The beneficiary can use this document to redirect their share to anyone they wish, regardless of whether or not that person inherited under the will or the rules of intestacy.
All beneficiaries that are detrimentally affected by the change will need to agree to it. Where the variation would affect a beneficiary who is under 18 it is not possible to vary the will, as a minor cannot legally agree to a deed of variation.
For example, a will may leave the entire estate to be divided equally between the deceased’s three children (Harry, Sam and Paula), but at the time of death, the deceased had four children (Harry, Sam, Paula and Hannah). The children may decide to divide the entire estate equally between the four of them, rather than between three as set out in the will. To do this, Harry, Sam and Paula (the children named in the will) must all agree, as the change will affect how much each will inherit.
If only two of the three children agree, they can only alter the share of the estate they are entitled to (ie ⅔ of the entire estate). The children will need to complete a deed of variation to change their entitlement to the inheritance.
As a result, if the entire estate that is to be distributed is worth £200,000 and Harry, Sam and Paula all agree to vary the will, then each of the four children will be entitled to £50,000. If only Harry and Sam agree, then Paula (the child that didn’t agree) will receive £66,666 (ie ⅓ of the entire estate), while Harry and Sam (the children that did agree to the variation) and Hannah (the new beneficiary) will each receive £44,444 (ie ⅓ each of the remaining ⅔ of the entire estate).