STEP-CHILDREN, ADOPTED CHILDREN, NATURAL CHILDREN – WHO INHERITS?
With the different variations of families in the modern world, complication can arise as to whom has the legal right to inherit monies. So often an adult child will come to a lawyer’s office after a parent has died to discuss distribution of an estate just to find out that they are not entitled to anything.
Besides being excluded in someone’s Will, two of the reasons why a child possibly could have no right to an inheritance is that the child is not the natural born child of the parent or the child is not an adopted child. Generally a child who is a step-child, or the child raised by an extended family member or close friend without a legal adoption, even with a legal guardianship, cannot inherit from the step-parents.
So what are some of the inheritance rules regarding adopted children and step-children? The law varies from state to state. Generally though, natural born children and adopted children are provided the same rights to inherit property. However, a step-child typically does not have a right to inherit property from a step-parent if the step-parent dies without a will or the will specifically does not designate the step-child as a beneficiary.
On the other hand, the law is most states provides that an adopted child has the same rights as a natural child if legally adopted. It should be noted that when a child is adopted, adopted child loses the right to inherit from the child’s natural parents, although gaining the right to inherit from the adopting parents. An exception is when a spouse adopts a child of the other spouse. In that situation, the adopted child does not give up inheritance rights from the natural parent.
A parent of a step-child who wants the step-child to inherit must specifically state so in a Will. Phrases in a will that leaves assets to my children, or to my brothers and sisters, will not include step-children and step-siblings.
The same is true if you are a step-child and want your parents or siblings to share in your estate. You must specifically name the individuals. Otherwise, by law, if you generally list parents or siblings without the specifics, the bequest may not go to the people who you want.
There is one way where a step-child could challenge the lack of inheritance. That would be when the child is financial dependent on the step-parent. If a step-child was treated as a child of the family by a married step-parent or was financially dependent on a step-parent who has died, and there is either no or inadequate provision on the death of the stepparent, he or she may be able to make an application to the court for part of the inheritance.
Because these issues are rather complicated, it is important for you to speak with an attorney who is able to help you meet your estate planning needs.