If a stepparent dies without a will, the stepchild usually will not inherit anything from the stepparent’s estate. The laws of most states only allow blood relatives or adopted children to inherit from your estate if you die without a will, called dying intestate. See dying without a will.
If you have not legally adopted your stepchild and you fail to make a will, your stepchild will likely receive nothing from your estate, even if you have raised your stepchild from a very young age. Some states, such as California, have a very limited exception to this rule, so if you are not planning to make a will, check your state laws to verify what your stepchild will inherit. Also, in some states, a stepchild can inherit from a stepparent if the stepparent dies with no other legal heirs, meaning no siblings, parents, uncles, cousins or other blood relatives, and the stepparent’s estate would otherwise escheat to the state.
If you want to ensure your stepchild will have financial security or receive something from your estate, you need to make a will or living trust. See wills and trusts. There are also other ways you can leave something to your stepchildren, such as naming them as beneficiaries on life insurance, naming them as beneficiaries on bank, brokerage, and retirement accounts, establishing college funds, making them a beneficiary of another type of trust, gifting property to them, or adding their names on title to property. If you fail to make a will or living trust, or use other estate planning methods to leave something to your stepchild, in most cases he or she will receive nothing from your estate.
If you have a biological child and want to ensure your biological child inherits your estate rather than your stepchild, you should make a will. This is important to ensure your intentions are clear and there are no will and trust disputes over your estate. If your stepchild tries to make a claim against your estate and a probate dispute arises, it could cost your estate a lot of money to refute the claim, thereby reducing the amount of money your biological child will inherit. Properly executing a will that outlines how you want your property distributed is essential to protect the interests of your biological child.
If you are confused about how to start your estate plan given the complex issues in your blended family, you are not alone. Many people are unsure how to divide their property when there are stepchildren involved. For estate planning tips on how to address this issue, see
Stepparents Face Unique Estate Planning Issues
Stepparents in blended families face unique estate planning issues. When both spouses have children from a prior marriage, it is understandable each parent wants to protect his or her own child. If the stepparents also have a child together, they may want to ensure all children are treated equally when it comes to financial support or inheritances. If any of the stepchildren will also receive financial support or inheritances from their other parent, this may impact a stepparent’s decision on how much to leave each child.
Many emotionally charged issues can arise among stepparents when discussing estate planning. Because these issues are so difficult to discuss, many stepparents never make a will. This often results in bitter disputes among surviving family members and negative financial implications for the children they leave behind. See parents second marriage.
If you are part of a blended family, do you know what will happen to your estate if you die without a will? If you have a will, does it accurately reflect how you want your estate distributed? If you have children from more than one marriage or relationship, do you have an estate plan that includes all your children? To learn how to leave things the way you want them, see our free estate planning guide at parent's estate plan.
If You Want to Disinherit a Child
Many people do not have a clear understanding of the inheritance rights of children and other heirs. The laws of inheritance are determined by applicable state laws, which are different from state to state. The inheritance rights of a child can also be affected by whether the decedent left a valid will or died without a will. To learn about the rights of a stepchild to inherit, go to
Inheritance Rights of Stepchildren.In some circumstances, a parent may wish to disinherit a child. This can be for a variety of reasons. If a parent has named the child as beneficiary of life insurance, college funds, IRAs, 401Ks, annuities or pay on death accounts, or has left other property to the child outside of his will, the parent may want to disinherit the child from receiving other assets from his probate estate. To learn how to ensure your property passes to your intended beneficiaries, see disinheriting an heir.
Making Your Estate Plan
Many people who remarry and have children from a prior relationship have difficulty making decisions about their estate plan. Finding the right balance between providing for your spouse and leaving an inheritance to your children is not easy. Another decision you may struggle with is whether to name your spouse or your adult child as executor of your estate. To learn how to address these issues in your estate plan, see Stepparents Estate Plan.