The state of marriage has morphed tremendously since the Brady Bunch first aired in 1969, giving rise to nearly as many blended families as traditional families. For those in this situation, it is important to incorporate stepchildren into your estate planning process.

Many stepparents love their stepchildren as their own; it may come as a surprise that emotional bond is not protected by law. Laws of inheritance apply to biological children and formally adopted children. If you do not have the legal relationship, you need to make clear you wish your estate to benefit your stepchildren.

Frequently, an estate plan leaves all remaining property to children, equally. This type of language will only apply to biological and adopted children. Some people believe their family will understand the intent and share. It is a nice thought, but it’s definitely not a foregone conclusion.

Even if you don’t have biological children, your estate planning lawyer will advise your stepchildren still won’t have rights to your estate. Instead, if you die without a spouse and without a will, your natural heirs will be blood relatives, meaning your property could pass to distant relations who you don’t even see, rather than to the people you helped raise.

Be explicit and specific with estate planning

Should you wish for your stepchildren to receive an inheritance, you must clearly document your wishes in your estate planning. Work with your estate planning lawyer to create a detailed will or trust that specifically includes your stepchildren in your class of beneficiaries. You can also name them as beneficiaries on life insurance or IRAs. This can be a nice option if you do not want your biological children feeling slighted, as they will not see who the other named beneficiaries are or how much they were provided.

Finally, please keep this in mind when your biological children are someone else’s stepchildren: should you get remarried and then pass away, leaving everything to your spouse, they could pass all to their biological children, effectively cutting off your own children. For this reason, trusts are frequently used in blended families to provide for a surviving spouse, but also ensure your children are not deprived of assets.

Blended families are common and ensuring your wishes are clear and honored takes a little effort with a skilled planning attorney. We would be honored to help you and your family protect who and what matters most. Please reach out to Attorney Lisa Powers at (585) 419-8869 or