In the popular television show, Modern Family, Jay and Gloria are raising two children. One son, Manny, is Gloria’s child from a previous relationship, but was raised primarily by Jay and Gloria. Their younger son, Joe, is Jay and Gloria’s biological child. If something were to happen to Jay, and Jay passed away without a will in place, would both boys inherit from Jay? Do step children inherit from a step parent in the same way a biological child does?
If you die without a will, your assets will go to your closest relatives under state “intestate succession” laws. In today’s age, many of us find ourselves in blended families, with divorce and remarriage being fairly common. This raises the question as to whether step children can inherit from a step parent, especially if they were raised by the step parent.
If a step parent specifically designates the step child to receive an inheritance, whether through a will, trust, or some other method of estate planning, the step child will certainly receive an inheritance. However, in the absence of any estate planning by the step parent, intestate succession laws in most states usually require an adoption of the step child during his/her life, in order for the Court to allow the step child to inherit a share of the step parent’s assets at the step parent’s passing.
There are a few states that have made some exceptions to the adoption requirement. In California, for example, state intestacy law allows a step child to inherit from a step parent, if it can be proved 1) the relationship with the step child began while the step child was a minor and continued until the present, and 2) there is clear and convincing evidence the step parent would have adopted the child if they were legally able to so. California Probate Code Section 6454.
Back to the example above, Jay would have needed to take some estate planning steps concerning his assets, such as having a will or a trust in place, to ensure Manny would receive an inheritance. If Jay were to pass away without having done any estate planning, under the laws of intestate succession, Jay’s assets would automatically be passed to Gloria and Joe. Although Jay raised both Manny and Joe, Manny would not be entitled to an inheritance from Jay, because he was never formally adopted by Jay. The only exception the Court might consider in allowing Manny to inherit, would require demonstrating Jay would have adopted Manny but was prevented from doing so because of a legal barrier.
As common as having a will may seem, many people often neglect to execute their estate planning until it is too late. Without a will, the Court is often left to distribute one’s estate through a lengthy and costly process known as probate, in accordance with California intestacy laws. For more information on family members entitled to inherit in the absence of a will, see our recent article here. For those who have not established their estate plan, we welcome you to contact the Law Office of Christine Padilla for a complimentary consultation. We are also available to assist those who need guidance through the probate process, under the circumstances where a loved one has passed without a valid will or trust in place. – Christine Padilla, Attorney and Owner.