Treatment of Stepchildren and Out-of-Wedlock Children in Your Will

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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Stepchildren & Estate Planning

State inheritance laws do not treat your stepchildren as your legal heirs, which means that they have no automatic legal right to inherit from you. Therefore, if you want to ensure they will receive part of your estate, you need a will and you must name them as explicit beneficiaries of your will. If you simply leave 20 percent of your estate to each child, your stepchildren will inherit nothing. You must name your stepchildren specifically. In general, when you leave property to children, you should list them by name, instead of referring to them only as my children. Courts confronted with a gift to my children may have to decide if that term was meant to include step-children or any children born out-of-wedlock. If you adopt your stepchildren, in most states they will inherit from you the same way as your biological children.

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Out-of-Wedlock Children & Estate Planning

The rules for out-of-wedlock children are not clear. For inheritance purposes, states recognize an out-of-wedlock child as a child of the mother unless the child was formally released by the mother for adoption. However, for inheritance purposes, an out-of-wedlock child usually isn’t considered a child of the father unless the father legally acknowledged the child as his, though there are exceptions to this rule. To be certain, you should check with an estate attorney for the rules in your state, or you can avoid getting caught up in rules and exceptions by stating in your will precisely who your children are, by name.

For more information, also read our article on Fairness in Division of Family Assets.

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