Should I Provide For My Stepchildren As Well As My Biological Children?

Whether or not to include stepchildren in your Phoenix estate plan is a very personal decision. There is no legal obligation to include stepchildren in Arizona, so the choice is entirely your own and should be given a thoughtful consideration.

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Sometimes couples in second marriages agree that each parent should leave an inheritance to their own biological children, but not their stepchildren. Other families treat stepchildren and biological children equally. A third group finds a middle ground between the two options.

Whatever you decide, it is critical to work with an experienced Phoenix estate planning attorney. Blended families present unique estate planning challenges, so it is important to get the help of a professional attorney. You want to make sure your estate plan accurately reflects your wishes.

How Do You Include Stepchildren in Your Phoenix Estate Plan?

There are many different ways that you can include your stepchildren in your estate plan. The best strategy for you will depend on your unique circumstances. Below are three common ways to leave property to your stepchildren in Phoenix.

  • You can name your stepchildren in your will. You can name your stepchild as a beneficiary in your will. You can decide to give them a specific gift of cash or property or leave them a percentage of your estate.

It is essential that you use specific language and refer to each child by their full name. Terms like children, dependents, issues, or heirs could cause confusion and lead to legal challenges. When you use general language, it could be interpreted that you only meant to leave gifts to your biological children.

  • You can include stepchildren in a trust. A second option is to leave property to your stepchildren in a trust. Trusts have many benefits, especially if your stepchildren are minors or have special needs. They can provide tax benefits and asset protection, and they pass outside of probate. Trusts also allow you to control the management and distribution of the asset after your lifetime. There are many different types of trusts. A Phoenix estate planning attorney can explain the available options and help you decide which best meets your goals.
  • You can add your stepchildren to beneficiary accounts. You can name stepchildren as beneficiaries of insurance policies, retirement accounts, investment accounts, and other beneficiary accounts. Beneficiary designations must be updated correctly because they pass outside of probate and supersede anything written in your will.

If you decide to include your stepchildren in your estate plan, it is strongly recommended to discuss this choice with your biological children. Directly communicating your wishes to your children can go a long way in preventing family conflicts and complications later on after your passing.  For example you may want to explain to your biological children that you hope to provide money so both they and stepchildren have money for college educational expenses because of how you value education.

How Do You Prevent Stepchildren From Inheriting Your Property in Phoenix?

There are no specific steps you must take if you do not want your stepchildren to inherit your estate in Phoenix, Arizona. They will not be awarded any of your estate’s assets if they are not mentioned in your will or trust. You will want to avoid stepchildren making a claim on your estate by having a properly prepared will and a comprehensive estate plan.

It is worthwhile to point out that if you leave property outright to your surviving spouse, then it is your spouse’s to distribute upon their death however they choose, including to your stepchildren. They can also decide to withhold property from your biological children. Again your estate planning attorney can help you take care of your spouse while addressing preserving your estate for your biological children.

If you are worried about balancing your spouse’s needs with the needs of your children from a previous relationship, you are a a good candidate to discuss this privately with your estate planning attorney. There are various strategies available. For example, you could set up a trust, which could provide income for the spouse and allows a spouse to stay in the home until their death. At your spouse’s death, the trust assets could then pass to another beneficiary of your choosing such as a biological child.

Will My Stepchildren Inherit If I Die Without a Will in Phoenix?

When you fail to create an estate plan, particularly a will, you essentially disinherit your stepchildren. If you die without an estate plan, your property will pass according to Arizona’s intestate inheritance laws. Under Arizona law, unless you have legally adopted your stepchildren, without a will, stepchildren will not inherit your property. Instead, if you die with a surviving spouse and biological children, half of the estate goes to the surviving spouse, and half is split between your biological children.

Your Phoenix Estate Planning Attorney

Nicole Pavlik is an experienced Phoenix estate planning attorney who will help you create a comprehensive estate plan. Questions about stepchildren are not unusual and she has the experience to help you make those type of decisions. If you have questions about estate planning, call Nicole Pavlik Law Firm today at (602) 635-6176 for a free consultation.

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