Do Stepchildren Have Inheritance Rights in Florida?

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As families become more blended and complex, our firm is often asked the question, “Do stepchildren have inheritance rights?” As with many things in the law, the answer isn’t black and white. But if you have stepchildren in your life–adults or minors–or know someone who does, it’s important for you to understand this topic. You want to be sure your assets are distributed in your estate after your death exactly the way you want them to be.  

Whether you’re a stepparent looking to provide for your family after you’re gone or are a stepchild wondering about your potential inheritance, this article will help you navigate the intricacies of stepchildren’s inheritance rights in the Sunshine State.

Do Stepchildren Have Automatic Inheritance Rights in Florida?

Florida law does not provide stepchildren automatic inheritance rights the way it does biological children. Without a will or a trust that specifically names a stepchild as a beneficiary, the probate process in Florida recognizes as heirs only biological children–whether born within or outside of a marriage–and legally adopted children.

This information comes as a surprise to many of our clients with blended families, as the stepparent may have raised the child from infancy and often has extremely close relationships with their stepchild. 

However, under Florida’s intestacy laws, which govern how assets are distributed when a person dies without a will, stepchildren are not granted the inheritance rights that biological or adopted children are.

The Importance of Explicitly Naming Stepchildren in Estate Planning Documents

Given that stepchildren do not have automatic inheritance rights in Florida, it is essential for a stepparent who wants their stepchildren to receive assets after their death to be proactive in estate planning. 

Florida’s intestacy laws take effect only when a person has no will. This means when you draft a will, you can ensure your stepchildren are provided for in the way you would like them to be. This is achieved by explicitly naming your stepchildren in your will or other testamentary documents.

When drafting your will or other estate planning documents, there are a few key steps to take:

  • Clearly identify your stepchildren by name. Avoid using ambiguous terms like “my children” or “all my children,” as these could be interpreted by the courts to include only your biological or legally adopted children and not your stepchildren.
  • Specify the inheritance share for each stepchild. Clearly outline the portion of assets that you wish to allocate to each stepchild. This can be an equal share with your biological children—say, 25 percent each if you have two biological and two stepchildren. Or if you are leaving a different distribution, you might say something like, 40 percent of probatable assets to each of the two biological children and 20 percent to the stepchild. Unequal distributions are sometimes done, for example, when the stepchild came into the person’s life in later years. 
  • Review and update documents regularly. Everyone should always review their will and other documents periodically, regardless of whether they have stepchildren. But especially with second or third marriages, family dynamics can change over time, so you want to regularly review and update your estate planning documents to ensure they accurately reflect your current wishes and family structure.
  • Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney. A seasoned estate planning attorney can help you navigate this process effectively and ensure your stepchildren’s inheritance rights are properly addressed.

By taking these proactive steps, you can avoid any ambiguity or potential disputes during the probate process in Florida, and provide your stepchildren with the legal protections you want them to have to receive their inheritance.

How Legally Adopting a Stepchild Can Impact Inheritance Rights

While stepchildren are not automatically entitled to inheritance under Florida’s intestacy laws, there is a situation where this changes: when they are legally adopted.

When a stepparent legally adopts a stepchild, they are treated the same as a biological child under Florida law. This means that the adopted stepchild has the ability to inherit the same portion of the stepparent’s estate if the stepparent dies without having a will or trust in place.

Legal adoption is the only way for a stepchild to gain automatic inheritance rights in Florida. Simply treating a stepchild as your own, or even referring to them as your child in other estate planning documents, is not sufficient to grant them the same legal status as a biological or adopted child during probate. To learn more about how adoption can impact the inheritance rights of your stepchild, consult with an experienced probate lawyer.

Strategies for Ensuring Your Stepchild Receives the Intended Portion of Your Inheritance

If you wish to include your stepchild in your estate plan but have no plans to legally adopt them, there are strategies you can employ to protect their inheritance rights.

  • Be sure to have a valid will. Florida’s laws on who inherits a person’s estate only comes into effect when the person dies without a will. If you want to protect your stepchild’s inheritance rights, it is imperative that you have a valid will. Working with an experienced attorney is the best way to ensure that mistakes are not made in the will that could call it into question after your death.
  • Designate your stepchild as a beneficiary on specific accounts. Certain financial accounts, such as retirement plans or life insurance policies, are not considered part of probate assets. This means you can directly name your stepchild as a beneficiary on these accounts (by consulting your broker or insurance salesperson), ensuring that those assets are distributed according to your desires.
  • Consider a customized estate plan. Depending on the circumstances or special needs of your stepchild, your estate planning attorney may recommend a tailored approach to your estate plan, such as creating a trust to accommodate your unique family dynamics.
  • In some cases, consider creating your own  revocable living trust. These trusts transfer assets into a living trust, where you maintain control of them during your lifetime. By designating the stepchild as a successor trustee, upon your death they will step into the role of trustee of the assets. These trusts have benefits and downsides and so require careful consideration. If you do create a revocable living trust, be sure to also create a pour-over will, which will govern how assets outside of the trust are distributed during the probate process.

By working closely with an experienced estate planning attorney, you can develop a comprehensive plan that ensures your stepchild receives the intended portion of your inheritance.

Looking for a Seasoned Probate Lawyer? Contact the LAW OFFICE OF GARY M. LANDAU, P.A., serving Coral Springs, Parkland, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, Pompano Beach, Deerfield Beach & all of South Florida

With more than 25 years of experience and countless satisfied clients, Gary M. Landau and his team are uniquely positioned to help you with your estate planning or real estate needs in South Florida. Whether you’re ready to probate a loved one’s estate or to write your own will, or if you are purchasing a home, have inherited a home, or want a closing agent to handle title insurance and all documents for your closing or refinancing, the LAW OFFICE OF GARY M. LANDAU, P.A. is ready to work with you.

Call our office at (954) 979-6566 or complete our online form today to schedule a free consultation. We work with our clients in person, over the phone, or on Zoom.

Copyright © 2024. LAW OFFICE OF GARY M. LANDAU, P.A. All rights reserved.

The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. 

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Coral Springs, FL 33067
(954) 979-6566

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