With today being National Stepfamily Day, it's a good time to remember that if your family includes stepchildren, you may need to revisit your estate plan.
Stepchildren are often considered by their stepparents to be on equal footing with any biological children that parent may have. But legally, a parent's natural-born children may be treated differently than stepchildren for purposes of distributing your property after your death under the terms of a will or through your state's intestacy code.
What do you need to know when your estate planning involves stepchildren? Here are three questions you may want to ask a lawyer who's familiar with your state's laws:
Will my stepchildren inherit from me automatically through intestate succession? Intestate succession statutes govern the distribution of a person's property if they die without a will or if their will is found to be invalid. Although intestacy codes vary by state, stepchildren are often not counted as children for purposes of intestate succession. This means that if you die without a valid will, your stepchildren may be prevented from inheriting your property and it could pass to another blood relative, possibly even a distant one, instead.
Are my stepchildren provided for in my will? Even if you already have a valid will, you may need to take extra steps to provide for your stepchildren if you wish to leave them a portion of your property. Depending on the laws in your state, simply leaving property to "my children" may not necessarily include stepchildren. For example, the Florida Probate Code specifically notes that "child" for estate planning purposes "excludes any person who is only a stepchild." To ensure that stepchildren and stepgrandchildren are included in your will, lawyers often recommend that they be named individually in a will.
Can you exclude your stepchildren from your will? If you do not wish to include your stepchildren in your will, it may also wise to make this intention clear in your will by naming them individually to avoid an omission being challenged as a mistake or an oversight.
If you have questions about how stepchildren may affect your will or other estate planning documents, an experienced estate planning lawyer will know the laws in your state and can explain your legal options.