As divorces have increased over the past two decades, the need to protect stepchildren in an estate plan has proved critical. Without a proper plan, your child could be shortchanged or left in a bad situation like Cinderella.
On the other side of the equation, what if you become the primary parent for your spouse’s stepchildren? When you raise them, they often become your own child to you. However, the law doesn’t see it that way. Unless you adopt them, they are still not considered your child for inheritance purposes. This is why it’s important to write down your wishes within a proper estate plan.
What Could Go Wrong?
A simple example is the following. When Michael met Rachel, she had a newborn child, Susan. Michael and Rachel got married and raised Susan together. He never adopted Susan. Rachel died while Susan was a young adult. All of Rachel’s assets were left to Michael, who unfortunately died a few months later. This resulted in his estate going intestate (laws of the State). Per the law, his entire estate went to his siblings. Nothing went to Susan even though she was his daughter for all intent and purposes.
The situation could have been avoided. Michael could have created a clear estate plan. He could have also adopted Susan early on. Regardless, it’s never too early to start planning as you never know that something may happen to you.
Another cautionary notion is when the stepchild is young and their birth parent passes away. Without proper planning, the desire for the stepchild to be cared by their step-parent could be lost because the wishes of the birth parent aren’t made clear.
A stepchild or step-grandchild is a member of your family. The law differentiates between birth children and stepchildren so it is up to you to be clear on your wishes. Should you have questions about how to properly plan for your stepchildren reach out to John Lewman of Lewman Law.