How to make Blended Family Problems Disappear

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Magician Paul Daniels is survived by his catchphrase: "You'll like this, not a lot...but you'll like it."

He was also survived by an unpleasant family row; and Paul, who I knew quite well, would not have liked that one jot.

In fact, the TV star would have been horrified by the huge fall-out that ensued following his death from an incurable brain tumour aged 77 last year.

Paul had what is now called a "blended family" — that is, one complicated by re-marriage.

The Yorkshire-born magician left his entire £1.5million estate to his second wife, the lovely Debbie McGee.

But when Debbie closed the Paul Daniels Magic Shop, run by Paul Daniels Junior, the son went to the tabloids to complain that he'd been cut out of his dad's Will. Unseemly insults ensued.

Father and son had launched the Paul Daniels Magic Party Shop in Wigan in 2007, selling magic props and fancy dress costumes.

The small loss-making store was in Paul Senior's name, however, so ownership transferred to Debbie, then 57, after he passed.

When she shut it down two months later, a string of stinging insults from jobless Paul Jnr were duly published by the Sun On Sunday.

And that's Paul Snr always used to say.

Debbie responded to the tirade with remarkable restraint, giving a considered interview to the Mail later that month where she explained that her relationship with Paul Jnr, the eldest of the magician's three sons from his first marriage, had not always been easy.

When he found he'd been left nothing in his father's Will, Paul Jnr "turned nasty very quickly", Debbie said.

"He flew into a rage, started calling me all sorts of horrible things. He started effing and blinding. He said I was lying and was trying to ruin him, and the abuse just went on and on.

"He refused to accept he hadn't been left anything. He threatened me over the phone, sent threatening text messages and then his friends began writing nasty things about me on Facebook.

"He was calling me so often and shouting down the phone so much that in the end I had to leave the country. I took an easyJet flight to Spain at the end of May just to get away from him.

"But that made me feel even worse as it was the first time I had travelled without Paul."

Paul Jnr, she said, believed he was entitled to £1 million, even though the entire estate was left solely to Debbie — which her other stepsons Martin and Gary said they were fully aware of.

Martin told the Mail: 'Dad had spoken many, many times about the will long before he got ill. He used to say he was 20 years older than Debbie and, as women live longer than men, that Debbie would live for at least 30 years after him. So he wanted to leave enough so that Debbie had that same lifestyle at least 30 years after he'd gone."

Moreover, said Debbie, when it came to his estate, her late husband had always made his feelings regarding his eldest son abundantly clear.

"For years, Paul had always said he wouldn't leave Paul Jnr any money because, within six months, he would have spent it down the pub and he would have killed himself,' she said.

Matters came to a head, she said, when, after discussions with Martin and Gary, she decided to finally close the shop which had haemorrhaged funds and was losing up to £36,000 a year.

Debbie hired a lawyer to ensure that Paul Jnr got a fair settlement, paying him £4,375 redundancy, while she paid him £500 a month to help him with bills.

Paul Snr's frustration was such, she said, that four months before he died, he'd told her that although a six-year lease remained on the shop, he wanted to close it. That decision was stalled in the wake of the star's subsequent illness, so Debbie took all the blame.

Paul Daniels once remarked: "Death isn't scary — it's just like going to sleep. It doesn't bother me because when your time's up, your time's up."

But the controversy that can follow a death in the family can be very scary indeed.

Blended family disputes are increasingly commonplace. And if a parent has children with several partners then the potential problems multiply.

Death can move an awkward situation to a war-footing — especially if the deceased's Will does not appear even-handed.

As a consequence challenges to Wills are on the rise. So what can be done?

The best solution is to back up your Will with a carefully drafted letter of intent explaining your decisions fully, including your reasons for excluding any family members to avoid the risk of the Will being challenged.

If you have a very good reason for cutting a dependent out of your will, by putting it in writing you make your wishes much harder to challenge.

If Paul Daniels had done that, he would have spared Debbie a whole lot of heartache.

Making your views clear in a legal document is much more effective than just telling your relatives verbally, as Paul did.

Experts say disputes like these are common when parents remarry after divorce, and it is not just celebrities who get caught out.

Nicola Waldman, partner at London law firm Hodge Jones & Allen, said: "With more than 130,000 divorces every year in England & Wales, many are torn between what assets to leave first and second families."

Blended families are increasing common and the number of inheritance disputes brought to the high court are soaring.

Making a Will that is as legally watertight as possible has never been more important. And there are proven ways to make sure your decisions are enforced after your death.

Here is a detailed article on how to ensure your Will cannot be contested when you're dead.

Garry Bushell, June 2017

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