In California, stepchildren can inherit from an estate if there is no will and under specific circumstances. If you have stepchildren, thinking ahead to your wishes for them may motivate you to do some estate planning.
Stepchildren and Intestate Succession
Intestate succession is the legal order in which heirs inherit if there is no will. Generally, intestate succession favors close relatives over more distant ones, and the spouse and natural children over anyone else. Since stepchildren are not natural children, they are not as likely to inherit. Some people do adopt their stepchildren, in which case the stepchildren are treated like natural children for intestate succession purposes.
In California, stepchildren can inherit from someone if there are no other close relatives alive. For example, if a person dies with no living relatives at all (no spouse, children, parents, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.), then the children of a spouse who previously died may inherit. Further, if a person dies with some relatives alive, stepchildren may still inherit if the spouse died only a few years beforehand. (See Probate Code Sections 6402 and 6402.5.) These situations are fairly rare, however, as most people have other relatives alive (such as cousins) when they pass away.
Stepchildren and Estate Planning
The rules listed above only apply if the person who dies has not made a will. You can purposely structure your estate to pass in part to your stepchildren by doing some estate planning. A will generally disposes of your money, real estate, and personal property to the heirs that you choose. You can make specific gifts in the will, or you can distribute a percentage of the estate to each heir.
Other estate planning structures can come in handy for making sure that you provide for your stepchildren. For example, you could create a trust that includes both your natural children and stepchildren as beneficiaries. Or you could consider contributing to their college funds while they are younger instead of, or in addition to, forming a trust. You have many options, but if you want your stepchildren to inherit, you should take some action to begin an estate plan.
Planning your estate and have stepchildren? Look to Janet Brewer, Esq. for thorough and thoughtful estate planning advice. Janet’s more than 20 years of legal experience will give you confidence and peace of mind. To schedule a “Get Acquainted” meeting, visit Janet's website or call her office at (650) 469-8206.