Families that include adopted children or unadopted stepchildren in Maryland and other states face unique issues concerning estate planning. It is essential to navigate and address these issues to address the needs of all family members, regardless of your marital status with the child’s parent or the child’s adoptive status. The following points can provide some helpful guidance and insight.
In most adoption situations, the adopted child has an equal status with biological children for estate planning purposes. In a will, for example, adopted children receive the same treatment as biological children in a will or trust that provides distribution to general classes of individuals, such as children or lineal descendants.
Adoption triggers inheritance rights
If a parent raises stepchildren yet never formally adopts them, these children typically do not receive rights to any inheritance. For stepchildren to share in an estate, they must be legally adopted, or the estate plan must have specific provisions to provide for the stepchildren.
Adoption may sever other family ties
Before deciding adopt stepchildren, the parents must consider how the adoption impacts the child’s ability to inherit from their other biological parent and family. In most states, once a stepparent adopts a child, the adoption legally terminates the parent-child relationship between a child and their other biological parent. This change means the child may be unable to inherit from that family branch, at least through intestate succession.
Explicitly address your wishes
To ensure that your intentions regarding your estate are legally binding and precise, it is essential to detail your wishes explicitly in a will or living trust. This step is crucial regardless of whether you have adopted children, stepchildren you haven’t legally adopted or have a long-term partner whose children you have not adopted. Clarity about your estate planning intentions regarding inheritance, the child’s guardianship and any other relevant matters will help protect your loved ones’ interests and minimize potential conflicts.
Addressing the needs of adopted children or stepchildren in your estate plan requires proactive and careful consideration. By understanding the legal implications and making provisions for treating all of your children equitably, you can safeguard the interests of your loved ones and ensure your wishes are carried out as intended.