Newman Law Group

Stepfamilies and their implications on existing wills

Family structure has changed over the years in California. Divorces and second marriages have made stepfamilies commonplace. Multiple divorces can add complications to the situation where estate planning is concerned. Subsequent divorces can create a scenario where former stepchildren are now involved. Wills need to be periodically reviewed and amended to reflect family changes and clarify bequests.

One interesting scenario involves the parents of a stepparent naming the child of the stepparent as a beneficiary instead of their own child. If their child the stepparent, were to divorce, what would be the impact on the step-grandchild as far as inheriting property from the step-grandparents, or a former stepparent? California law states that an ex-spouse is treated as having predeceased the testator of a will or trust as long as the document or documents were finalized and the divorce was finalized prior to the testator's death.  However no such laws exist concerning gifts to stepchildren from stepparents or step-grandparents.

There have been examples where evidence of an on-going relationship between the children and the stepparent following a divorce has been considered by the court.  If a relationship were ongoing following a divorce, it could be inferred that the stepparent would still have wanted a bequest to go to a stepchild. Lack of an ongoing relationship could be used to negate the bequest.

Stepfamilies can be complicated and relationships within stepfamilies can be made even more so in the event of a divorce. Strong bonds can be formed between a stepparent and a stepchild, particularly if the relationship came about when the child was very young and lasted a long time. To ensure that loved ones are provided for as intended, it is important that wills and other estate documents are reviewed and updated regularly.

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