You get married thinking, “til death do us part.” In reality, it’s until we get tired of each other and we have decided we don’t want to try to make it work. Today’s society thinks it is easier to walk away from difficult situations as opposed to work through them. With that said, it is now very common to see blended families full of biological children and stepchildren.
Most parents want to make sure their children are taken care of when they pass away. The question is: Are all children treated equal? The answer is no. Without proper estate planning your stepchildren will not receive inheritance from your estate.
Florida’s probate laws do not treat stepchildren as a person’s legal heir, which means stepchildren do not have an automatic right to inherit from their stepparents. Your children may be the stepchildren of your spouse and, depending on whom lives longer, may be unintentionally disinherited.
In order to make sure your stepchildren are not overlooked, you need to specifically name them as a beneficiary in your trust. If you state in a trust, “I leave 30 percent of my estate to my children”, you would only transfer assets to your biological children. This statement would include a stepchild only if they were legally adopted (at that point they would no longer be considered a stepchild)
In Florida, a child is a person who is legally adopted or a biological child of the decedent. Any general statement found in a trust referring to children, will be assumed to mean only biological children unless otherwise stated.
If a person dies without a will or trust, their stepchildren will not receive any inheritance under Florida’s succession law. Florida law states, if there is no spouse, the estate would first descend to the biological and adopted children of the decedent. When there is no descendant, the property passes to the parents and if that is not possible, the property passes to the decedent’s siblings. If there are no heirs, the property goes to the state.
Since not all children are treated equally under Florida law, make sure you make it clear if you wish to take care of your stepchildren when you pass away. It is crucial that you have an experienced South Florida estate planning attorney draft your estate planning documents. An experienced attorney can ensure the intent of the trust, and that the named beneficiaries will be clear to the court upon your death.
Fore more information on successful South Florida estate planning, please contact The Hershey Law Firm, PA in Fort Lauderdale, Florida at (954) 303-9468 to schedule your free consultation.