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What inheritance rights do stepchildren have in California?

On Behalf of | Feb 28, 2024 | Estate Planning, Probate

When a person dies without a will, intestate succession laws can come into play, allowing the court to appropriately intervene and distribute the deceased’s estate. These laws have provisions indicating specific designations concerning legal heirs and beneficiaries, factoring in the deceased’s wishes recorded in a will and other relevant legal documents.

When intestate laws apply, some of the deceased’s family members may not have legal rights to become heirs despite being a close or vital part of the household. In California, this scenario can typically happen to the deceased’s stepchildren.

What rights do stepchildren have?

Based on intestate succession laws, stepchildren are not legal heirs of the deceased. Even if the stepchild lived with the deceased or spent more time with them, only the spouse, children and other relatives can be heirs by law.

However, there are ways to include stepchildren as legal inheritors. In some cases, the court can acknowledge their legal right to the estate if there is enough proof to establish that the deceased would have adopted the stepchild, making them a valid heir. But this instance can apply on a case-to-case basis, often depending on the court’s decision.

Estate planning to accommodate stepchildren

These legal issues could be irrelevant if the deceased officially adopted their stepchild during their life. If complications got in the way of the adoption process before death, an estate plan can include the stepchild as a beneficiary in a will, trust, or other tools.

There are many options to help the deceased enforce their wishes regarding what happens to their estate, especially if they have financial obligations to important people in their life. Additionally, having skilled legal guidance can help determine what estate planning tools are appropriate and effective based on the situation.