Many people make the life-changing decision to expand their family through adoption. Others expand their family when they marry and their new spouse has children from a previous relationship. As loving and caring parents, they may wish to protect the future of their adopted child or step child by including them in their estate plan. For the parents to achieve this, they must be aware of all applicable laws and follow them accordingly. An experienced estate planning lawyer can guide the parents through the legal aspects to ensure that their will or trust will be legally binding.

Stepchildren and Inheritance Laws

Under the law, stepchildren do not have the same rights as biological or legally adopted children when it comes to automatic eligibility for inheritance. Specifically, if a stepparent passes away without a will or a trust, a probate court will often designate the biological children as the estate’s beneficiaries if there is no surviving spouse. The same is not true for stepchildren. To avoid this scenario, the stepparent must create a will or trust and identify their stepchildren by name as their beneficiaries and specify what gifts they should inherit.

Some stepparents take the added step of legally adopting their stepchildren as it offers many benefits under the law. This includes the adopted stepchild gaining the right to inheritance the same as a biological child. Adopting one’s stepchild also affords the stepparent legally recognized parenting rights. There are pros and cons to the legal adoption of a stepchild, and they can be explained at length by a family law attorney. As for sharing your legacy with your stepchildren, an estate planning lawyer can provide you with the information that you need to safeguard your final wishes.

Legal Guardianship for Stepchildren

When a person passes away and leaves behind minor children, if there is not a surviving parent, the children’s legal guardianship will pass to the guardian named in the decedent’s will. In the absence of a will, the Court will determine if there is an able and willing relative who should be named the guardian. If there is no such person, it is very likely that the Court will rule that Child Protective Services should gain custody of the child. If a stepparent passes away and their minor stepchild’s biological parents are not alive or are not deemed suitable to care for the child, the court is not obligated to consider the recommendations of the decedent’s will. If the child was legally adopted by the stepparent, that is a different matter. Ultimately, the Court is expected to consider what is in the best interests of the child. A family law attorney can direct you in what steps you need to take as the stepparent to best position the child for after your passing if their other parent may not be suitable or has already passed.

Consult an Estate Planning Attorney

If you wish to include your stepchild in your final legacy, consult an estate planning lawyer who can help you achieve the goals you wish for your loved ones.