Do Stepchildren Inherit Under Florida Estate Law?
Step parents get a bad rap. From time immemorial, fairy tales speak of the wicked stepmothers of Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, and Snow White. While it is understandable that the dichotomy of a family might be different when a step parent is introduced, in the real world there are plenty of loving, devoted step parents and step children who mean the world to one another. Because this positive parent-child relationship can very well exist, it is only natural that a step parent may want their stepchild to inherit part of their estate after they pass away. But how does Florida estate law treat stepchildren? Will they inherit similar to any biological heir of the deceased? And are there any additional steps you might consider taking in order to ensure the stepchild DOES inherit, as intended? This article aims to answer some of these questions.
Legal Heirs Under Florida Estate Law
Like every other state, Florida has adopted its own set of rules and regulations pertaining to how inheritance laws will work under their jurisdiction. Under Florida’s inheritance laws, unlike biological children, step-children of the deceased are not considered legal heirs. This means that a stepchild will not, ordinarily, have an automatic inheritance claim to their step-parent’s estate.
This does not mean that a step-child CANNOT inherit a portion of the estate. It simply makes it that much more important that you utilize appropriate estate planning tools in building your estate plan. This will ensure, to the best of your ability, that any step-child that you want to include in your will is properly identified and provided for.
Steps to Ensure Step-Child Inheritance
If a testator wants to ensure that their stepchild will inherit a piece of their estate, then the step parent should specifically name the step-child as a beneficiary in their will. For example, the statement “I leave 20% of my estate to my children.” Is actually not specific enough. The court could very well deem the statement to apply to your biological children, but not, specifically, to any step-children of the testator. A more specific statement would be “ I leave 20% of my estate to be divided equally between my children and step-child X.” The specifics of exactly how the inheritance should be divided can be crafted to reflect whatever precise arrangement that you desire (that is allowable under the law). However, it is advisable to discuss the crafting of the last will and testament and division of the assets with an experienced estate law attorney to ensure that you are properly crafting your plan to benefit any step-child you want to include as a beneficiary.
Another Option: Adoption
Adoption is another way to ensure that a step-child will be recognized as an heir in your estate. Adopted children, unlike stepchildren, DO become legal heirs and will be entitled to inherit from you estate just the same as any biological child. Everyone involved should recognize, however, that with this comes the caveat that any parental rights held by the biological mother/father will need to be relinquished in order for an adoption to take place. With that relinquishment, the child will, generally, no longer be entitled to inherit from their biological parent.
These are complicated matters full of nuance. It is always worthwhile to consult with an experienced estate law attorney when building or reviewing your estate plan to ensure that your affairs are handled exactly as you intend.
Contact Suncoast Civil Law
The experienced Sarasota wills and probate lawyers at Suncoast Civil Law can provide you with skilled advice garnered from experience. Experience in aiding testators in creating the estate plan that is right for them and their family: whoever that may be. Contact our office to discuss the specifics of your case today.