Five Estate Planning Considerations After a Stepparent Adoption
Estate planning and stepparent adoption can be complicated, although legal adoption does provide extensive rights to the adopted child. If you’ve adopted your spouse’s child, there are a few things that must be considered with your estate.
Five Estate Planning Considerations Regarding Stepparent Adoption
1. Intestate Law Applies if the Adopted Child Is Not in the Will
If a will is in place and the adopted child is not mentioned, this can lead to the adopted child’s inheritance going through intestate law. What does this mean? If your will leaves your house to one child, the house will not go to the adopted child.
However, if the will states that the estate is to be divided equally among children with no specific names provided, the adopted child will receive an equal share of the estate.
2. Update a Will to Clarify Your Wishes
The wishes in the will should be updated after an adoption. While the adopted child retains intestate rights, they may not have any rights if not mentioned in a will. There are some circumstances where parents intentionally omit a child or children from a will, and if this can be proven, then those omitted from the will receive nothing.
There are also cases where an adopted child is provided for outside of a will.
For example, if the adopted child receives a life insurance policy from the parent, they may be omitted from the will because of this. If this can be proven and the person isn’t mentioned in the will, other heirs may argue that the adopted child was already provided for.
Updating a will and making your last wishes clear is the easiest way to dictate what happens to your estate.
3. Adopted Children Become Equal Heirs of an Estate
Does the stepparent want the adopted child to be considered an equal heir of the estate? Once adoption occurs, the law will ensure the child has the same rights to the estate as a biological child.
In many cases, this right is the reason for adoption in the first place.
However, if the estate includes family heirlooms from one child’s deceased parent and you want these items to go to that child, it’s vital to have documents drawn up that specify these wishes.
4. Loss of Rights of the Biological Parent’s Estate
Let’s assume that a stepfather wants to adopt the child of his spouse. When he adopts the child, the child will lose the right of inheritance from their biological father’s estate. This is because birth family ties are severed during adoption, and this may mean that the child loses out on inheritance if their biological parent was well-off.
However, their biological parent’s own estate planning documents may still provide an inheritance to the child.
5. Work Closely With an Estate Planning Lawyer
Challenges to an estate often happen with or without an adopted child. However, when a child is adopted, it provides substantial rights to an estate that cannot be taken away by any heirs.
With that said, it’s crucial to have estate planning documents in place that protect:
- All potential heirs of the estate
- Your wishes
A general rule of thumb is that if your wishes aren’t in writing, there’s a good chance that they won’t be upheld. Therefore, you should spend time speaking to an estate planning attorney to ensure that all of your wishes for your estate are documented and up to date.
Inheritance Laws: Adopted vs. Unadopted Stepchildren
When it comes to inheritance, adopted children are entitled to the same succession rights as natural, legitimate children.
However, the adopted child does lose the rights of inheritance to their natural parents’ estate.
From a legal standpoint of estate planning and stepparent adoption, it’s one of the best ways to ensure that the legal rights of all children, adopted or natural, are the same. Of course, when the right estate planning documents are in place, you can further dictate the wishes of your estate.
If, however, a child is part of the family and is never legally adopted, special provisions in the estate plan need to be made. Non-adopted children will not have the same legal rights as:
- Legal children
- Family members
When adoption is not possible, it’s crucial for special provisions, within the guidelines of state law, to be made to provide an inheritance to an unadopted child.
Stepparent Adoption Brings Clarity to Estate Planning
Adopting a child, whether the child is one of your spouse’s children or not, brings a high level of clarity on the division of an estate. A stepparent who adopts the child takes the child as their own and grants the same succession rights to all adopted and natural legitimate children.
The considerations above help children from both sides of the marriage inherit their legal right to an estate.