Palm Springs Law Blog

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Stepchildren in the Golden State: Navigating Inheritance Rights in California Blended Families

Blended families are the new normal, thanks to changing societal norms concerning divorce and remarriage. Though once a rarity, the “yours, mine, and ours” scenario is now commonplace.

While navigating new family dynamics is never easy, it’s not unusual for adults to come to love their stepchildren just as much as their biological children. Many stepchildren also start to think of their stepparents as full parental figures and treat them with the same affection.

Unfortunately, the law doesn’t always recognize these kinds of familial bonds. And when it comes to inheritance rights, stepchildren could be left with nothing if they’re not included in the estate plan or if no estate plan exists. 

With that in mind, it’s crucial to understand how inheritance works in California and what you can do to ensure that your stepchildren are represented in your estate plan.

Inheritance Rights in California

Regarding inheritance, assets are split into two main categories: community property and separate property. If you are married at the time of your death, your spouse will automatically inherit 100% of assets that fall under community property. That could include assets like homes, vehicles, and so on, for which you are the sole title holder.

As for property that is considered separate, which includes assets owned before marriage or inheritance you received during your marriage that you kept separate, it will be divided between your surviving spouse and your biological children unless you have a will or trust in place that names specific beneficiaries.

If you do not have a living spouse or biological children, your surviving parents are next in line to inherit your estate. If they are no longer around, any of your surviving siblings would be eligible to split the inheritance. If none of these family members survive you, any children they might have would be next in line to inherit (i.e., grandchildren, nieces and nephews, etc.).

Cases Where Stepchildren May Inherit

There are very few cases in which stepchildren would be in line to inherit any part of your estate without a verified will, trust, or other legal instruction in place. The only situation under California law in which such an outcome might occur is if you have no natural children but your spouse, who has predeceased you, did. That said, the spouse can not have predeceased you by more than 15 years at the time of your passing.

Making Your Wishes Known

If you want to leave a portion of your estate to your stepchildren, you must make your wishes known through a legal device such as a Last Will and Testament or a trust. You can do whatever you want with any separate property you own, but that is not the case if you want to leave a portion of your community property to stepchildren. Your spouse will have to agree, as such property is shared.

Chances are you won’t have any trouble with that if the stepchildren are your spouse’s biological children, but what if you want to leave something to stepchildren from a previous marriage? If the assets are part of your marital property, you might have more trouble convincing your spouse, who stands to inherit these assets in full otherwise.

Don’t Wait to Create Your Estate Plan

If you have a close parental relationship with your stepchildren, you may want to ensure they’re represented in your estate plan through a will or trust that names them as beneficiaries alongside your biological children. 

It’s never too soon to start planning so you don’t leave loved ones wondering what your wishes were when you’re gone. The experienced attorneys at Heritage Legal, PC are available to help Palm Springs, CA, residents with all their estate planning needs. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

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