Step-Children and Inheritance Rights

an adult hands a sprouting plant to a young childBlended families are becoming more and more common in the United States.  Divorce and remarriage are both common, and this means that one or both spouses may have children from a previous relationship.  Expanding a family is a joyful time and the relationship between a step-parent and a step-child can be a rich and loving one.  As a result, it is not uncommon for the step-parent to want to make sure the step-child is provided for when the step-parent passes away.

If the step-parent dies without a will, his or her assets will pass according to Minnesota laws of intestate succession.  Intestate succession laws provide that the spouse of the decedent (i.e. the person who has passed away) receives all of the assets, unless the decedent also has children from another relationship, in which case the spouse and the children divide the assets.  If there is no surviving spouse or children, then the law looks to find other close blood relatives, such as parents, siblings, or even grandparents.  If no blood relatives can be located, the assets may ultimately be distributed to the state of Minnesota.  The point is that intestate succession laws provide no vehicle for a step-child to automatically inherit without a will, unless the step-parent has legally adopted the step-child.

Despite intestate succession laws, a step-parent is absolutely free to draft his or her own estate planning documents that leave some or even all of the assets to the step-child.  There are no limits on who a person may choose to be the one inheriting or as the beneficiary of a trust, so a step-parent is certainly at liberty to provide for a step-child in almost any way he or she chooses.  A step-parent should be aware, however, that there are specific provisions of the law to address a situation where the biological children have been accidentally omitted from a will.  There are also potential pitfalls in drafting a will because many wills use standard language such as “descendants” or “heirs” when referring to those who are inheriting, which can create confusion when it comes to step-children as they are not the descendants of the person creating the will.  A skilled estate planning attorney will have the necessary techniques to demonstrate that any omission is not an accident while also using sufficiently specific language to make sure your goals are achieved in your will or trust documents.

If you have step-children and have questions about your estate plan, you need to talk to an experienced attorney.  Call us today at (651) 371-9117 so we can talk about how to help you make sure all of your loved ones are provided for after you are gone.

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