Blended families are the norm these days, and in most cases they’re as complicated as traditional families, if not more so. Unless you previously adopted your spouse’s children, they’re considered step-children, and as a result they have no legal right to your assets. So, if you want to give money or property to step-kids, you need to create a will that says so. Keeping reading for tips on creating a will when there are step-children involved.
How to Include Step-Children in a Will
Many individuals have close relationships with their step-children and want to ensure they’re taken care of for years to come. If you plan to pass assets on to your step-child after you’re gone, it’s crucial that you include them in your will. Otherwise, step-children will have no legal claim on your property or money. You can opt to leave your step-children specific gifts or arrange for them to receive a percentage of your estate.
For best results, avoid using terms like issue, dependents, or heirs when crafting your will. This is especially important if you have other natural children. To avoid legal ambiguity and confusion, refer to each child and step-child by name in your will and clearly state what you intend for them to inherit.
Additionally, you can name step-children as beneficiaries in living trusts, special needs trusts, and life insurance policies. To minimize conflicts down the line, make an effort to talk to your spouse and any natural children about your plans to will money or property to a step-child. Doing this ensures that everyone knows what to expect while preventing relationship issues and complications.
How to Prevent Step-Children From Getting Your Assets
While some blended families are harmonious, others face many of the same challenges and conflicts as more traditional households. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that many step-parents opt not to include step-children in their wills. The good news is that you aren’t under any legal obligation to gift money or assets to step-children. Moreover, you don’t have to take steps to keep step-children out of your will. Because they aren’t your legal heirs, step-children will not be awarded any of your assets without your consent.
It’s worth noting that step-children can still receive property via your spouse or legal partner. If you’re married at the time of your death, your spouse will be at liberty to distribute your assets to anyone they choose, including step-children. They can also opt to withhold property from your natural children and give it to step-children if you don’t have a will to convey your wishes. If you’re concerned about what your spouse may do with your assets after death, creating a will or trust is essential to protecting your family’s future.
One way to avoid the possibility of step-children inheriting is to set up a marital bypass trust. A legal document, this trust enables a spouse or partner to use property until their death. However, since they aren’t the rightful owner of the property, they won’t be able to pass it on to other friends or family members. Upon the spouse’s death, the property will pass to the next beneficiary of your choice.
Avoiding Legal Challenges to Your Will
Estate planning is complex, and legal challenges are all too common. To avoid miscommunications and confusion, you may want to write a Letter of Wishes to accompany your will. This document reinforces your choices regarding distribution of property while explaining your reasoning. Additionally, a Letter of Wishes can prevent family members from legally challenging your will upon your death.
Just as no two families are the same, every client has distinct needs when it comes to estate planning. Serving Arizona residents, JacksonWhite’s estate planning team specializes in helping a wide range of individuals create wills and trusts that protect their families when they’re no longer around. Whether you have concerns about incorporating step-children into your will or dealing with another issue, you can trust our experts to be in your corner.
Call Arizona Estate Attorney Dave Weed at (480)467-4325 to discuss your case today.
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