how to include stepchildren in will

2022-03-04

How to Make Sure Stepchildren Are Included in Your Estate Plan

Getting specific is always important in estate planning, but it is especially crucial when it comes to blended families. Because a stepchild cannot automatically inherit from a stepparent, you must create or update your estate plan as soon as stepchildren enter your life. Neglecting to do so will lead to inheritance issues with your stepchildren and biological children after your death. Understanding how to include stepchildren in your will and other estate planning documents will ensure that your estate plan accurately reflects your wishes.

At Phelps LaClair, we are experienced in helping blended Arizona families account for every family member in their estate plans. Continue reading to find out how to make sure your estate plan protects your stepchildren.

Inheritance Issues with Stepchildren

If you die intestate, meaning you pass away without a will, your estate will go to probate court. The court will then distribute your assets according to the laws of intestate succession. Depending on your surviving heirs, your spouse and/or your biological children may receive half or all of your assets. Because stepchildren are not considered heirs (unless they are legally adopted or specifically named in a legal document), they are not entitled to any of your assets when your estate goes through probate. 

Typical Wills for Blended Families

In most wills, the assets go to the surviving spouse. The surviving spouse can then choose to distribute those assets however they wish in their own will. As relationships change over time, your biological children, stepchildren, and even grandchildren may not end up in your spouse’s will. If you want to make sure the children in your life become beneficiaries of your assets, you must include them in your estate plan.   

How to Include Your Stepchildren in Your Will, Trust, and Other Documents

Use Specific Language

The best way to make sure your estate plan includes both your biological and stepchildren is to be specific. When creating or updating a will or trust, don’t just name “my children” as beneficiaries—it’s best to list every beneficiary’s full name individually, along with the specific percentage of your estate that you intend each of them to receive. 

Update All Beneficiary Designations

Wills and trusts aren’t the only part of your estate plan that names beneficiaries. Don’t forget to update your retirement plan and life insurance policy to include your stepchildren if that’s what you desire. Keep in mind that a beneficiary designation can supersede a will. Naming your stepchildren in your will does not entitle them to your life insurance policy or your retirement account unless you specifically designate them as beneficiaries in those documents. 

Create a Trust

When leaving money to minor stepchildren, it’s a good idea to set up a trust that protects their assets until they turn 18. Make sure the trustee is a trustworthy adult who will manage the assets according to your stepchildren’s best interests. You may also want to set up a trust if your children have special needs to help protect their assets throughout their lives. 

Blended Family Estate Planning in Mesa, Arizona

If you would like to leave some of your assets to your stepchildren, you should create or review your estate plan with a professional advisor. The estate planning experts at Phelps LaClair are ready to serve the residents of Mesa, Chandler, and the surrounding areas. Call 480-892-2488 today to schedule a consultation. 

Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (3/4/2022). Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash



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