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How to Include Your Stepchildren in Your Estate Plan

Blended family relationships can be challenging, and it may take some time for everyone to feel at home. By creating an estate plan and not neglecting to provide for your stepchildren when you pass away, you can avoid conflicts. You can make a will that expresses your intentions for each member of your immediate family, whether they are biological or not, with the help of a Los Angeles estate planning lawyer.

Can a Stepchild be a Beneficiary?

Yes, stepchildren can be beneficiaries; however, they don't have the same automatic inheritance rights as biological children. If you want to include them in your will, you can adopt them, making them officially yours, or name them specifically as beneficiaries.

This makes estate planning especially important because if you die without a will, assets will be divided among your biological relatives and completely omit your second spouse's children, regardless of how much you love them.

It's highly recommended that you have a heart-to-heart discussion with your new spouse before you make a final decision. Ideally, you should be on the same page when it comes to making provisions for all your stepchildren when one of you dies.

Read: Estate Planning Guide for Second Marriages and Blended Families

You might have second thoughts if you're prepared to share your estate equally among all the children, but your spouse is only willing to give your children a 10% share of their estate.

You can discuss estate matters in the presence of an estate planning attorney in Los Angeles, CA, if you think you need an impartial mediator who can also provide valuable guidance and insight based on years of experience.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Before the meeting, however, it's important to prepare by asking yourself some deeply personal questions about your relationship with your stepchildren.

Questions include:

How Would You Characterize Your Relationship with Your Stepchildren?

This includes things like the fun you have together and whether you have shared interests like baseball. On the other hand, you might be civil to one another with no particular ill feelings on either side. Perhaps your relationship is characterized by the silent treatment in between blazing rows.

What is Your Spouse's Relationship with Your Children?

Ideally, you would like them to have fun together and really enjoy their time with one another; however, their relationship could be characterized by snippy arguments and resentment. How does this affect your relationship with your stepchildren or even your own children?

Is Your Relationship with Your Stepchildren Equal to Your Relationship with Your Biological Children?

In other words, you've merged together so well that there are no lines dividing us and them.

Do you feel you need to contribute to their emotional and financial needs?

In this instance, you might feel that they are unable to fend for themselves financially. This could be based on a mood, a mental disorder, or special needs.

How Would Your Children React to Your Decision?

This is about the relationship between all the children and considers whether they think it's fair to share everything equally or if they would be perfectly happy to leave the stepchildren out of your will entirely.

Read: What to Do When a Sibling Disputes a Parent’s Will

Who is Going to Be Their Legal Guardian?

This is very challenging because you might have a designated guardian (your sister), and your spouse has her own designated guardian (their sister). However, there is an important factor to consider: the relationship between all the children. If they are close, how will they feel if they're separated?

Try to find someone trustworthy who everyone likes. That could be your spouse's brother or a trustworthy mutual friend.

Remember, it's about the children, not your sisters.

The Answers

It's important, to be honest with yourself when you answer these questions. If you aren't comfortable with your answers, ask yourself if you can change anything. For example, could you spend more time with your stepchildren, perhaps by attending sports events or recitals?

Whatever your answer, prepare to be honest with your spouse. That doesn't mean you can be bolshie about it. Here, your Los Angeles estate planning lawyer can help keep emotions in check.

What are the Inheritance Rights of Stepchildren?

As we've seen, stepchildren don't have inheritance rights, but there are three ways in which you can ensure that they receive their share of your estate.

  • You can specifically name them in your will.
  • You can create trust for them.
  • You can use  a beneficiary designation.

Last Will and Testament

There are two ways in which you can include your stepchildren in your will. You can designate particular assets to them or leave them a percentage of your estate's value.

A Trust

Make a trust just for your stepchildren that no one else in the family, not even an enraged cousin, may touch.

Beneficiary Designation

In this instance, you might not include your stepchildren in your will or create a trust, but you can make them beneficiaries of life insurance policies and retirement accounts.

Read: Using LLCs and Partnerships in Estate Planning to Keep Property in the Family

Be Specific About Your Wishes

Whichever option you choose, you must be absolutely clear about what you want. The best way to ensure this is to consult estate planning attorneys in Los Angeles. They can draw up a will or create a trust that is locked up so tightly that there are no loopholes, windows for contestation, or other inheritance issues.

With this in mind, you must remember to update your estate plan when your circumstances change. For example, you might intend for your stepchild to be the sole beneficiary of your life insurance policy, but your ex-spouse is still listed.

It's possible you initially left your book collection to a cousin, but your stepchild is a far bigger bookworm and will get more enjoyment out of it. You must change your will and be very specific about wanting it to go to your stepchild. In a fit of family conflict, your cousin mustn't be able to claim it back.

It might help to leave a letter (or letters) that explains your decision. For example, you could leave a letter to your cousin to explain why they're no longer getting the entire collection, but your power of attorney is instructed to give them the first edition Harry Potter books and your valuable magazine collection.

You could write one letter that covers your decisions for the comprehensive estate plan, but it's often better to write personal letters without broadcasting your intentions to the whole family.

Read: Why Is It Important to Review Your Estate Plan?

Contact Us to Ensure Your Loved Ones and Properties are Protected

Writing a will can be difficult enough when you have a small family to consider. It gets more challenging when you add extended family members, like stepchildren.

McKenzie Legal & Financial has expert Los Angeles estate planning attorneys dedicated to estate planning, including living trusts, so you can be confident that your wishes will be observed.

Complete the contact form on our website or call 562-594-4200 for a free consultation to kick-start your estate planning process.

Thomas McKenzie Law
Estate Planning Attorney in California. Full-service law firm specializing in estate plans, wills and trusts, long-term care, and financial consulting. Thomas L. McKenzie received his Juris Doctor degree from Western State University College of Law, in Fullerton, California. While working full-time at night and attending full-time daily classes, Tom graduated law school with honors in 1993.

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