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A number of important life events prompt the need for an estate plan update and one of them is adoption. Around 135,000 children are adopted in the United States each year. In addition, as blended families become more common, so too does adoption in the context of stepparent and stepchild relations. Accordingly, more than ever, it is important that people know the intricacies of estate planning and adoption.
Only an experienced estate planning attorney can assess the needs specific to your case. Nonetheless, there are a few general facts that anyone estate planning around adoption should be aware of.
1. Formally Adopted Children Are Generally Treated the Same as Biological Children
Laws concerning estate planning and adopted children vary by state but in general, formally adopted children have the same right to their parents’ estate as biological children. Indeed, it is standard practice these days to include a provision in estate planning documents defining the “issues” addressed as including both descendants by blood and descendants by adoption. This means that if a stepparent later wishes to disinherit a stepchild, their documents must be updated so that this wish is explicitly stated. Otherwise, at the time of their passing, an adopted stepchild will be treated the same as a biological child.
2. Lacking Formal Adoption, a Child May Lose Their Inheritance
More common than stepparents wishing to disinherit a stepchild is them wishing to include stepchildren in their estate. Wishing won’t get the stepparent very far, though. If a stepchild is not formally adopted, the wish that they are treated the same as a biological child will need to be explicitly stated in their estate plan.
3. Inheritance from Biological Parents Ends When Adoption Begins
Adopting parents should know that when adopted, a child loses their right to the biological parents’ estate. With open adoptions becoming more common—those in which both sets of parents know one another and some measure of contact is maintained with the biological side—it can be especially important that folks consider this consequence of adoption.
In cases where a stepparent adopts a stepchild and is married to the child’s biological parent, this concern does not apply.
While the above three important facts deal with adopting parents, adopted children also need to take care to ensure their wishes are represented in their estate plan. If a stepchild is not formally adopted and wishes to leave assets to a stepparent or stepsiblings, they must make this clear. Step-relations do not generally have an automatic claim to one’s estate which is why blended families need to take extra care to ensure no one is left out where inheritances are concerned.
An experienced estate planning attorney is an essential resource for estate planning generally and even more so in cases where a family’s structure diverges from traditional norms.
To learn more about avoiding unpleasant surprises and ensuring all of your loved ones are considered in your estate plan, do not hesitate to reach out to the Law Firm of Christopher W. Dumm either by calling 417-623-2062 or using the contact form on our website.
Contact the Estate Planning Attorneys at the Law Firm of Christopher W. Dumm