In today’s world, many families are mixed, with children from prior marriages becoming stepchildren. California does treat biological children differently than stepchildren when it comes to inheritance and intestate succession, so it is important to understand how the law may affect you or your family if there is no will or estate plan in place. An experienced probate attorney in your area will be able to fully explain the legal differences and your options for including biological and stepchildren in a person’s estate.
Biological Children vs. Stepchildren
When a person dies without a will or estate plan, they are called intestate, and when this occurs in California, the state’s intestacy inheritance laws kick in to determine who should receive the deceased person’s estate. The intestate estate includes community and separate property owned by the deceased. Under the law, biological and stepchildren are treated differently and biological children are the only ones considered heirs to the estate. Stepchildren are not included for inheritance in intestacy and will be completely excluded from inheriting any portion of the estate.
How to Protect Your Stepchildren
If you wish to have stepchildren included in the inheritance, the easiest way to do so is to create a will and estate plan that includes them in the distribution of the estate. An experienced estate planning attorney can easily draft an estate plan that includes all children, biological and stepchildren, in the plan. If you do not wish to create a will or estate plan, another option to protect stepchildren and include them in intestate inheritance is to adopt them. California intestacy laws consider adopted children the same as biological heirs for the purposes of intestate inheritance, and your stepchildren would then be included in the distribution of the estate.
One final option is to name assets that would not be included in intestate inheritance to your stepchildren. Assets that require a beneficiary or are co-owned do not pass through the intestate process. Examples of these assets are property owned in joint tenancy or with a right to survivorship, vehicles with transfer-on-death registration, payable-on-death bank accounts, securities held with transfer-on-death accounts, retirement funds like an IRA, 401(k), or pension fund with a designated beneficiary, life insurance proceeds, and property placed in a living trust. These assets transfer directly to the person named on death, avoiding the intestate inheritance process altogether. Naming stepchildren as the beneficiaries of these types of assets can ensure that they receive some inheritance from the estate without the need to create an entire estate plan or draft a will.
Talk to a Divorce Attorney Today
To schedule a consultation regarding any questions about family law in California, contact one of the family law attorneys at Kearney | Baker today at 626-768-2945.