“Ask Your Attorney” Column

About The Rights Of Step Children To Inherit Property

Dear Counselor: My wife and I have four wonderful children between us — two each from our prior marriages. When we die, will our respective stepchildren inherit equal shares of our estate?

Dear Client: Under the law, a “child” is defined to include an adopted child, but does not include a stepchild. Therefore, if you die without a will, or trust, your stepchildren would not be recognized as heirs to your estate, and would not inherit anything. This is the case even if you had no children of your own. If you and your wife want to provide for both your children and stepchildren, what you need to do is make sure your wishes are not left to chance. You should make a will or a trust for yourselves that sees to it that all your children are treated equally for purposes of passing your estates to the next generation. A will or trust agreement, properly drawn (and witnessed in the case of a will) will then control the disposition of your estate. You can have your attorney include language in such estate planning documents that your respective stepchildren shall be treated as if they were your natural children for all purposes. That way, your wishes are clearly stated, and you’ve left no doubt about how your estate should be handled.

John L. Maier, Jr.