Families come in all shapes and sizes, from small families with only one child and beneficiary to large, mixed families with stepchildren, half-siblings, and even adopted children thrown into the mix. All these children have relationships with their parents, stepparents, and adopted parents and these relationships evolve over time.
Once you adopt a child, a wonderful thing to do, you are bringing that child into your life in a way that is equivalent to a biological child for all legal purposes. This means that in estate law, they have the same standing as any biological child you have. If you die intestate, meaning without a valid will, then your children, including adopted children, are potential beneficiaries and their claim on your estate is only eclipsed by a spousal claim.
Adopted children, like biological children, are generally expected to be at least partial heirs of an estate that is governed by a will. While it is completely possible to write a valid will that does not include biological and adopted children, it is a good practice to either leave them a nominal inheritance or be very specific in acknowledging in the document that you are not leaving them an inheritance.
Stepchildren can be an important part of your family but the second parent may not choose to adopt those children, particularly if both parents are still alive and well. These children are not considered heirs in an intestate succession situation. To have them step into the same role as a biological child, the parent would have to go through adoption proceedings. While one state, California, does allow stepchildren to inherit in a very specific situation, most states require more before a child can become an intestate heir.
However, it is possible and easy to include stepchildren in a will or trust. It’s simply a matter of naming the children specifically or creating a class of individuals to inherit that clearly includes the stepchildren. If your stepchildren are an important part of your life, it can be a good gesture to include them in your will and leave them a gift, even if this is significantly less then what is left to a spouse or to your biological children.
The estate team of lawyers from Dunn Law Firm can help by taking the time to fully understand your situation and advise on the best way to handle mixed and large families. Each person’s families and goals are unique and we have multiple estate planning tools that can help you create the outcome that ensures your loved ones, friends, and favorite charities are all considered and that your estate is well-designed and documented. To learn more, reach out to the Dunn Law Firm by calling (435) 628-5405 to set up a free consultation today.