Since divorce has become more socially acceptable in the United States
over the past 40 years, we have seen an explosion in blended families.
Surely, you know plenty of people who are divorced and there is a very
high chance that
someone in your family has stepchildren. Maybe that person is you.
Families can certainly be complicated, especially when you have children
from a previous marriage, and stepchildren from a second or subsequent
marriage. Sometimes, people barely know their biological children from
their first marriage, especially when the children were born when the
parents were very young, or when a father is a victim of parental alienation.
estate planning and
probate attorney, I see all different types of family situations. Intact families
these days almost seem to be the exception, rather than the norm.
Since stepchildren can hold a very special place in the hearts of stepmothers
and stepfathers, I wanted to discuss their inheritance rights under the
law, and to do this I’m going to describe what could happen if a
stepparent fails to draft an estate plan.
A Stepfather’s Mistake
Let’s say that Robert was just 20 in 1978 when he married his first
wife Sue. A year later, Robert and Sue welcomed a son and a two years
later, the couple welcomed a daughter. It wasn’t long before Robert
and Sue realized that they were incompatible and the marriage quickly
In 1982, the couple divorced and a few years later Robert met the true
love of his life, Anne, and married her. Though Sue was the one to file
for divorce, she became very jealous of Robert’s new wife and decided
not to let Robert see his children. In fact, Sue launched a full-blown
smear campaign against Robert and it wasn’t long before his own
children refused to visit with him.
Meanwhile, Robert cared deeply for Anne’s 2-year-old daughter Sofia,
whose biological father abandoned her and her mother when she was born.
Robert raised Sofia as his own and she grew up to be a wonderful stepdaughter.
Robert was happy to pay for her college education and her beautiful wedding.
One day, Robert is killed in a tragic car accident. Though Robert was intelligent,
he never got around to creating an estate plan, so he died
intestate (without a will). He thought he had plenty of time.
Under Tennessee’s intestate succession laws, Robert’s estate
would be divided equally between his surviving spouse and his two biological
children, who he hasn’t spoken to in over 30 years. Now his stepdaughter
who Robert raised since she was a toddler,
wouldn’t be entitled to any of his estate.
Under the intestate succession laws, stepchildren are not entitled to a
stepparent’s estate. The only ways that a stepchild would receive
any of their stepparent’s inheritance are if: 1) the stepparent
legally adopted the stepchild, or 2) the stepparent specifically included
their stepchild in their will or trust.
Since Robert never adopted his stepdaughter and he didn’t have a
will, Sofia did not inherit any of his estate. Instead, his biological
children, who are strangers at this point, stand to inherit a large portion
of his estate. So stepparents, let this be a lesson!
If you are a stepparent who wishes to bequeath assets to your stepchildren,
you will have to specifically do so in an estate plan, and I can help
you with that.
Nashville estate planning firm to schedule your
free initial consultation!