Estate Plans are important because they help to avoid unexpected results. Many people have no idea that if there are any stepchildren involved having an estate plan is vital. Without an estate plan, if your spouse dies and leaves behind children that were not also your legal children, you will not receive all your spouse’s assets and you will have to share them with your spouse’s children.
What happens if you have stepchildren and your spouse dies?
Let’s look at the Brady Bunch as an example. Carol has three daughters from a prior marriage. Mike has three sons from a prior marriage. Under Arizona’s laws of intestacy which are the default rules for how property is distributed if there is no estate plan in place, if Carol died without an estate plan in place (and in Arizona), her husband, Mike would get one-half of her separate property and NONE of Carol’s community property. Instead, Carol’s daughters would inherit ½ of Carol’s community property and ½ of Carol’s separate property.
Without an estate plan in place, when a person dies when they have children from a prior relationship, their current spouse will not receive all of the deceased spouse’s assets and will have to share them with their stepchildren, regardless of their stepchildren’s ages.
A court will appoint someone to manage the stepchildren’s assets and the court may appoint your stepchild’s other parent.
If a child under the age of 18 inherits any property, this means that a court will have to appoint a conservator. The likely candidate would be either a licensed fiduciary or the parent of the kids. This could effectively mean that Mike is sharing management of property that he used to share with his wife — with Carol’s ex-husband. This is a result that many people are eager to avoid.
To further complicate matters in a blended family, the surviving spouse would not affirmatively be able to have a continuing relationship with his stepdaughters without further court intervention.
Only legally adopted or biological children are entitled to any share of assets without an estate plan in place.
Another issue that comes up is what the laws of intestacy consider who are Mike’s kids legally when there is no estate plan? If Carol died and he was able to raise Carol’s daughters as his own and then later died himself without an estate plan, those daughters would have no legal claim to any of Mike’s assets. For children to inherit from you under Arizona’s intestacy statues, the state of Arizona has to consider them your children legally. Children that you never legally adopt and have no legal parent/child relationship with will not receive your estate if you do not have an estate plan. If you have any children that you have helped raise and that you consider to be your child but you have no estate plan in place, this can cause unwanted results.
Estate planning in blended families avoids unwanted results.
Estate planning can avoid these unwanted scenarios, but it must be done in advance. Working with a qualified estate planning lawyer can help you understand these issues in more detail and to understand how they apply to your particular situation.