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What are your inheritance rights as a stepchild?

Nowadays, blended families are the norm. Divorce rates for people over 50 have slowly been increasing in the last two decades, and second marriages are much more common after divorce or the death of a spouse.

However, even as more California families become blended families, many estate planning laws do not recognize the rights of some blended family members unless their rights are explicitly included in their loved one’s plan. This can create several challenges if a parent passes away without updating or preparing their estate plan to protect their children’s, or stepchildren’s, needs.

So, it is important to know: what are your rights as a stepchild?

Stepchildren are not automatically covered under “children”

If someone dies without a will, their estate is subject to California’s intestate succession laws. These laws provide an order of which surviving family members have the right to inherit from their loved one’s estate. Depending on the family’s situation, the order generally follows:

  1. Spouses
  2. Children
  3. Siblings
  4. Parents

Unfortunately, stepchildren are not included under the definition of “children” in these laws. This term only refers to biological children or legally adopted children under the law.

Therefore, stepchildren do not share the same inheritance rights as biological or adopted children. In fact, California law states that stepchildren do not inherit until all of the relatives directly related to the stepparent – or relatives descended from the stepparent’s grandparents – receive property. This can even apply if your stepparent inherited your biological parent’s assets upon their passing.

However, there are certain exceptions.

What are the exceptions that give stepchildren inheritance rights?

Of course, stepchildren can inherit from their stepparents if the stepparent includes them in their estate plan. But there is another exception stepchildren should know.

In 1985, state lawmakers passed a law that provided stepchildren the right to inherit during intestate succession if:

  • The relationship between the stepchild and the stepparent began when the stepchild was still very young, and they continued that relationship throughout their lifetimes; and
  • The stepparent intended to adopt the stepchild but faced legal challenges, such as pushback from the child’s other biological parent.

You must be able to prove that both of these factors are true to inherit anything from your stepparent.

As a stepchild, you may feel that you should have as much of a right to inherit as any other child, but these situations that are often already overwhelmed with grief can quickly become complicated for children of blended families. However, knowing about these challenges beforehand can help you and your family prepare for them and plan accordingly.

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