Estate Planning & Providing For Stepchildren
Florida’s families are more blended now than they perhaps ever have been, with divorce rates high and it no longer being as stigmatized to have a child out of wedlock. Very often stepchildren will become just as dear to their stepparents as any blood relation – only to be thunderstruck when they are left out of that parent’s will, most often due to mistake or a sudden death before the will could be changed. If you have stepchildren or children you have not yet formally adopted, it is crucial to ensure that your estate planning includes them explicitly.
Intestacy Laws Are Clear
According to Florida intestacy law, which is the law that applies when a person dies without a valid will, a person’s children will inherit the part of an estate that does not go to a surviving spouse (if there is one – if there is not, the person’s children will inherit their entire estate). Florida law explicitly states that legally adopted children have the same rights as a biological child for the purposes of inheritance law, and a biological child born out of wedlock has rights in their mother’s estate, but only in their father’s estate if they can establish paternity. Essentially, if a child’s place in a family has been legitimized by legal paperwork, they can inherit.
That said, adoption both creates and severs ties. A biological child who has been adopted by another person or family is legally a part of their family, not yours – which means that they cannot inherit from you unless you make provision in your will to allow it. In addition, if you have children you have not legally adopted or acknowledged paternity for, they cannot inherit from you unless you have a will or other estate planning instrument that allows them to. Intestacy laws leave no room to maneuver – a person who dies without a will or other estate planning instrument does not get to control how their assets are ultimately distributed.
Options For Stepchildren
Stepchildren are in a unique position when it comes to estate planning – in most instances they are beloved family members, but they have no legal status in terms of inheritance. They are seen by the law as the children of their parents, even though their parents are no longer married. Florida law places the duty to support children squarely on the heads of their biological parents, even though stepparents can play a pivotal role in a child’s development. However, so many parents are unaware of this – they may believe that since they live with and care for their stepchildren, they should inherit by default.
There are two options to ensure that stepchildren inherit. One is to legally adopt them; since adopted children have the same inheritance rights as biological children. The other is to explicitly provide for stepchildren in your will or via a trust agreement. It is crucial in turn to ensure that your estate planning documents fulfill the requirements of Florida law – provisions in an invalid will are not given any credence by the state’s Probate Court.
Contact A Florida Estate Planning Attorney
Ensuring that your estate planning is in order, especially if you are of advanced years, is crucial as the world continues to be unpredictable. Knowing that your loved ones are provided for can help set your mind at ease. The Naples estate planning attorneys at the Nici Law Firm can help you decide how you want to distribute your assets upon your passing, and understand what an immense task that can be. Contact our offices today at (239) 449-6150 or use our web form to set up a consultation.