An unavoidable repercussion of the rising divorce rates is a substantial increase in the number of stepchildren. When inheritance is concerned, the legal rights of stepchildren are less appreciated. Contrasting to natural, adopted or even illegitimate children, stepchildren have no direct inheritance rights to their stepmother’s or stepfather’s estate and assets unless distinctly specified in the Will. Your stepchildren will have no legal right to inherit from you even if you die without a Will.
While there are several cases where stepparents are not willing to leave a single penny towards their stepchildren, in many instances the relationship is strong and loving. But, in the absence of a Will, this will count for nothing when speaking of inheritance and passing on of property and estate. If the parent and child are bound and related by blood, then even without a Will, a certain percentage of the inheritance will still pass to them considering the size of the family.
Thus, if you do not wish to leave anything to your stepchildren, you do not have to do anything. However, if you wish to bequeath some part of your inheritance to them, you will need to specifically nominate them in your estate plan and Will.
Who are Stepchildren?
If you have not legally adopted the children of your partner or spouse, they will become your stepchildren. If you adopt your stepchildren, then they will qualify as your children legally and will have the same legal ties to you similar to children born to you.
Any legal connection is nonexistent between you and your stepchildren (unless you adopt them) so, as far as the making of a Will is concerned, you have no obligation to leave anything to your stepchildren. In fact, there is no law dictating your responsibility to leave a certain percentage or portion of your estate and property to any of your children. However, laws that exist pertaining to children dictate that:
- Protect children who are accidentally left out of a Will, and
- Allot a certain percentage of the estate and property to children whose parents die without a Will.
But, neither of the law is applicable to stepchildren. In effect, the legal status of your relationship with your stepchildren is the same to someone having no familial ties, for instance – like a neighbour or a friend.
Effects of these Principles on Stepfamilies
It is of most important to understand that the rules of intestacy will be applicable to stepchildren only if the deceased person had formally adopted them. If you and your partner are married, each is entitled to inherit a certain portion from each other as per the rules of intestacy, but this does not include your stepchildren. Only a spouse, a blood relative or an adopted child can automatically inherit from a deceased person in the absence of his or her Will.
Remember that a Will that leaves assets naming in words such as ‘my children’ or ‘my brothers and sisters’ is not inclusive of stepchildren and/or step siblings. In case you are residing with your stepfamily, it is important that you make a Will that ensures that upon your death, your estate and property will be inherited by the people who are important to you. It is recommended that you take legal assistance from solicitors to draft the Will to make sure that the way it is phrased does not cause any confusion and difficulties after your death. However, this is not necessary because you can figure out how to make a Will at home as well!
How to Leave Inheritance to Your Stepchildren
If you wish that your stepchild inherit a certain portion of your estate and property, you can do so, just like you would nominate anybody else. By specifically nominating your stepchild in your Will you can leave your entire estate to him or her if you wish or leave specific gifts.
In addition to using a Will, you can also leave gifts to your stepchildren using a number of other estate planning tools. For instance:
- If you have a living trust that you use to avoid probate, you can nominate your stepchild as a beneficiary of the trust.
- If your stepchild is eligible for government disability benefits, you can make provisions for your stepchild using a special needs trust.
- If you have a life insurance policy or a pay-on-death financial account you can nominate your stepchild as a beneficiary of the policy or account.
You will need to keep in mind that any gift you leave to your stepchild will reduce the amount of property available to the other beneficiaries. So think it all through, before making it legal.