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Are You Legally Obligated to Include Stepchildren in Your Will?

When setting up an estate plan, it’s common for individuals with stepchildren to wonder if they have to leave assets and property to stepchildren. The simple answer is that if you have not legally adopted your stepchildren, you have no legal obligation to even mention them in your will.

On the other hand, if you do wish to leave anything to your stepchildren, you must explicitly mention it in your will. You would do this just as you would leave behind a gift to anyone—by including percentage of your estate, an amount of money or a specific item you wish a stepchild to receive.

You may also accomplish this using any of the following estate planning tools:

  • Living trusts with a stepchild named as a beneficiary
  • Special needs trusts with a stepchild named as a beneficiary if that stepchild qualifies for government benefits
  • Life insurance or payable-on-death financial accounts with your stepchild named as a beneficiary

If you also have biological children, it’s important to be clear with the language you use in your estate planning documents. Do not refer to your stepchildren as “children,” “heirs” or “descendants.” Refer to them by name or as your “stepchildren,” even if you consider them your own.

The only scenario in which your stepchildren could end up with property of yours after your passing is if your spouse leaves behind some of your property to them after his or her death. Thus, if you want to specifically exclude your stepchildren, you may do so in your will.

This can be a thorny issue for individuals setting up wills and trusts. For the information and advice you need, speak with a knowledgeable Florida estate planning lawyer at The Charles Law Office.

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