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Inheritance rights of stepchildren vary from those of adopted and biological children despite stepfamilies being common in modern society.
The U.S. Census Bureau puts the number of stepchildren at 2.5 million, with over 13% of adults having a stepchild.
Stepfamilies include divorced parents who remarry, single parents living with new partners, or same-sex couples with children from previous relationships.
While the children may enjoy all the privileges of a nuclear family, they may face challenges regarding estate planning and inheritance.
This guide highlights the inheritance rights in blended families while providing tips to secure the stepchildren’s inheritance rights in your estate planning.
- Stepchildren are not entitled to their stepparents’ estate unless they are formally adopted or included in beneficiary designations, trusts, gifts, or a will.
- The inheritance rights of stepchildren differ from those of adopted and biological parents, hence the need to seek further guidance on the legal provisions in your jurisdiction.
- The four common ways to include stepchildren in your estate plan and leave them direct inheritance is by including them in a valid will, trusts, beneficiary designations, or offering gifts.
What Are the Inheritance Rights for Stepchildren?
Stepchildren are not entitled to their stepparents’ estate unless they are formally adopted or included in beneficiary designations, trusts, gifts, or a will. Therefore, the children have no automatic right of inheritance despite any warm relationship they may have had with the decedent.
As an adopted child, you enjoy similar inheritance rights as a biological child who has a right to inherit whether or not there was an estate plan. However, the adoption deprives you of the right to inherit from your biological parents unless otherwise indicated in their estate plans.
Apparently, inheritance rights for stepchildren differ from those of adopted and biological parents, hence the need to seek further legal guidance on the legal provisions in your jurisdiction.
Can Stepchildren Challenge a Will?
Some situations allow stepchildren to challenge their stepparents’ estate plans. However, to successfully challenge a will as a stepchild, you must prove beyond doubt that you were named but somehow removed in the last minutes.
In addition, you must prove that the last-minute removal was as a result of the following reasons;
- Fraud: You must prove that other beneficiaries in the will, such as biological children, influenced the recent removal with false information about you. You must provide substantial evidence of the misleading information supplied to the testator before the changes.
- Forgery: You must prove that someone altered or rewrote the will through false pretense. Forgery is a leading and provable cause of will contest. Still, the complainants must clearly show how other people included statements or signed the documents in place of the decedent.
- Mental Incapacity: The courts require decisions and proceedings only involving mentally sound parties. So, proving that the testator had no mental capacity when drafting or altering the will would be sufficient ground to support your case.
While you need to prove that the testator was not of sound mind at a given time, you must also provide the basis for your assumption: was it due to illness, age, drug abuse, medication, etc.?
- External Influence: Under this ground, you must prove in a probate court that the testator acted under the influence of external forces, which may include other beneficiaries, to alter the will in their favor.
These are some possible reasons you may contest a will as a stepchild, but it doesn’t mean you’ll always carry the day. Therefore, before deciding on how to contest as a stepchild, you need to consult a professional estate attorney to review your case and advise you on the legal options in the future.
Can Stepchildren Inherit from Their Biological Parents?
Stepchildren can only inherit from their biological parents if the laws of the state where the biological parent died allow or if they’re named in a will or trust.
However, the following scenarios may allow them to claim inheritance from their biological parents despite not appearing in wills or trusts.
- Dying Intestate: If the biological parent dies without a will or trust, the state’s intestacy laws come into play. States like Florida and California consider stepchildren for inheritance from biological parents, but only if no other living relatives exist.
- Rights of Omitted Children: Step children can seek inheritance if the biological parent did not name them as beneficiaries in trusts and wills but had planned the estate before remarrying or before the stepchildren were born. They can use laws in some states that protect the rights of children unintentionally left out of the estate plans.
- Invalid Will: If they were not named as beneficiaries but the will later found to be invalid due to fraud, forgery, coercion, lack of capacity, or any other reason. In this case, the stepchild can challenge the estate plan in probate court and reclaim their inheritance rights.
These are some of the closest means for stepchildren to claim inheritance from their biological parents. Still, they must convince the court to grant them the rights. Besides, the process may require a robust understanding of your jurisdiction’s inheritance and intestacy laws, not to mention expert navigation of the costly and complex legal procedures.
How To Grant Inheritance Rights for Stepchildren in Your Estate Plan
The four common ways to include your stepchildren in your estate plan and leave them direct inheritance is by including them in a valid will, trusts, beneficiary designations, and offering gifts.
Here’s is a more detailed look at each of these tools;
- A will: In a will, you express your wishes on how you’d want your estate to be distributed and clearly state the beneficiaries. Here, you can include your stepchildren as beneficiaries and clearly state the amount of your estate they’re entitled to.
- Trusts: A trust allows you to designate someone as the trustee of your assets and property and oversee their distribution to all beneficiaries. Unlike a will, a trust does not have to go through the probate process, saving money and time.
- A Beneficiary Designation: This form is commonly used in assets and accounts that require a designated beneficiary, such as annuities, brokerage accounts, and insurance policies. By naming your stepchildren as beneficiaries for these assets and accounts, you save them the hassle of going through the probate process for inheritance rights.
- Gifts: This option lets you transfer assets or cash directly to your stepchildren without going through the probate process. Gifting is known to reduce the inheritance tax. Also, it ensures they are safe from dynamics in probate cases after your demise.
Don’t Give Up Yet
For more guidance and information on estate planning needs and inheritance rights of stepchildren in your jurisdiction, don’t hesitate to contact Record Click.
Record Click is a professional heir search company that provides services for estate settlement, probate search, heir search, heirship, and more
Our team of experts will help you claim your inheritance rights, find missing heirs, settle your estate faster, and more.
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