The American family model has changed dramatically over the last 50 years, and today it is more common than ever to see “blended” families with both natural children and stepchildren, or children from prior marriages. With blended families comes the blending of assets, and parents should be careful when creating or updating their estate plan to ensure their wishes are understood and their loved ones provided for.
When estate planning for blended families, is important to create a plan that balances the needs of the new spouse and stepchildren with your biological children and former spouse. You have the freedom to distribute your assets how you wish, but if you want to include stepchildren as beneficiaries, you need to draft your will and other estate planning documents clearly and carefully.
Florida Probate Laws and Stepchildren
In Florida, probate and intestacy laws do not automatically recognize stepchildren as legal heirs—even if you don’t have any biological or adopted children. Stepchildren do not have automatic inheritance rights from their stepparents in our state, which means that they will be entitled to nothing unless specifically named as beneficiaries in your will. Without a proper estate plan in place, you could unintentionally disinherit your stepchildren and leave them without a single cent of inheritance or financial protection.
However, with a strong estate plan, you can make sure your stepchildren are provided for in your will. You can ensure your stepchildren can inherit from your estate by specifically naming them as a beneficiary. When drafting your will with stepchildren in mind, you should also consider any specific bequests. If you want a stepchild to inherit a specific asset, property, or portion of your estate, you should explicitly name them as beneficiaries in your will. You may also want to make them contingent beneficiaries, meaning they will inherit certain assets only if their biological parent dies before you.
It is essential that the intent to include stepchildren is very clear within the language of your estate planning documents. That’s why it’s very important to consult with an estate planning attorney when drafting your will. A seasoned Florida estate planning attorney can ensure the intent of the will is clear, and the identity of your beneficiaries are clarified to Florida courts after your death. Your attorney can help you examine the personal and economic needs of your family, and help you create a plan that accommodates your new family unit.
When creating or updating a will, you may want to discuss the following elements with your lawyer:
How to include stepchildren in your will. If you want to be sure that your stepchildren inherit from your estate, you should ask your attorney what steps should be taken to make this a certainty. Your lawyer can advise you on proper language and evidence that you can use to make your intentions known, and point out any holes that could result in your stepchildren unintentionally being omitted from your plan.
How other heirs will be affected. If you have biological or adopted children, you should consider how their inheritance will be effected if your stepchildren are included. An ideal estate will protect the interests of beneficiaries from both your families equally.
Additional special considerations. An attorney can alert you to any other provisions you should include to accommodate special circumstances, such as children born out of wedlock.
As your family changes, your estate plan should change with it. Contact a Florida estate planning attorney for more information on how to design or update an estate plan that honors your wishes and protects the needs of the loved ones you leave behind, whether that includes biological children, stepchildren, former spouses, and other family members.
About the Author:
Christopher Q. Wintter is the founder of Wintter & Associates, P.A. and a board-certified expert in Trust and Estate matters by the Florida Bar. With more than 24 years’ experience as a practicing attorney, he also serves as an instructor and faculty member for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA)—the nation’s leading provider of legal advocacy skills training to practicing attorneys—and has earned the AV® Preeminent™ rating with LexisNexis Martindale Hubbell. He was also selected for inclusion in Florida Super Lawyers for 2011 and 2012 in Estate and Trust Litigation.