Stepchildren and Inheritance Rights

A couple and their child standing in a grass field

Do Stepchildren Have Inheritance Rights in Omaha?

Blended families, those that are joined families after a second marriage, are becoming more commonplace. It's understandable with single parents and a high divorce rate in the United States.

Estate planning can be especially tricky when it comes to blended families, as they tend to bring up questions about the inheritance rights of both biological and stepchildren. Individuals with blended families will oftentimes want their stepchildren to receive inheritance rights.

So what exactly are the inheritance rights for stepchildren? Do stepchildren naturally have inheritance rights? The short answer is no.

The order of inheritance usually goes as follows:

  • Surviving spouses
  • Children (biological or legally adopted)
  • Grandchildren (biological or legally adopted)
  • Siblings
  • Parents

Inheritance Issues With Stepchildren

Without the protection of a will or formal adoption, stepchildren can be left without an inheritance. These formal documents in whole or part can lay the foundation for carrying out the wishes of a deceased member. You should never just assume everyone will “play fair” when settling an inheritance.

For example, let’s say that a family starts out with three children. Later after a divorce, the children decide that no contact with one of the parents is warranted for whatever reason. That alienated parent decides to marry again to a nice person that has a young son and raises him as his own.

The parent develops a bond with the second spouse’s son and cares for this boy to the best of their ability. Unfortunately, the parent never adopts this boy, and because of his age, didn’t think about creating a will.

If the spouse died suddenly, half of his estate is passed on to the three previous marriage’s children with who that parent hasn’t had contact for years – maybe tens of years. Depending on assets, beneficiary designation, and ownership forms, the second spouse may not and the loved stepson would not get a dime.

It’s a scary scenario, but legally stepchildren do not have the same inheritance rights as biological and adopted children. If a stepparent wants to leave a stepchild any part of their estate, they must give specific directions for doing so in a will.

Otherwise, the stepchild could get nothing, even if it is against the stepparent’s wishes. If you want to learn more about what you can do to secure an inheritance for your stepchild, it's important to contact a family lawyer who can help guide you with the next steps to take.

Are There Exceptions That Allow Stepchildren To Obtain Inheritance?

In order to guarantee that stepchildren have legal rights to inheritance, they must be specifically included in the stepparents' estate wills. Simply the mention of "children" may not be sufficient. A stepchild may make an application to the court to receive part of the left inheritance; however, there are very limited exceptions made. 

Exceptions may include the following:

  • The stepchild was a part of the stepparent's life at a very young age, and their relationship continued throughout both of their lifetimes.
  • The stepparent attempted to adopt the stepchild, however, there were challenges involved regarding possible pushback from the stepchild's biological parent.

If that is your case, a family lawyer will be able to help provide you with the legal support and guidance that you need during this time.

What Are The Inheritance Issues Involved With Stepchildren?

If a stepparent dies without creating a will, in most cases state laws govern which family members inherit the estate.

While state laws may vary widely, the assets are generally passed down to:

  • The surviving spouse
  • Biological and adopted children
  • Biological and adopted grandchildren
  • And, in some cases, the deceased’s parents.

Most often, if the deceased doesn’t have a living spouse or biological or adopted children, their inheritance would most likely go to their surviving parents and not their stepchildren, even if they have a closer connection to their stepchildren. This can not only cause problems for the stepchildren but also tax and long-term care planning issues for the surviving parents.

At Burnett Legal Group, we have a team of attorneys who specialize in estate planning. We subscribe to the belief that “What’s in the family, should stay in the family!”

If you are a stepchild with questions regarding your inheritance rights, contact our attorneys at Burnett Legal Group to schedule a consultation at (402) 810-8611. Our lawyers have years of experience in family law, and in protecting the rights of individuals like yourself.

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