When you and your new spouse were married, you brought together two families into one. You probably had a lot to consider when merging your families, and modifying your estate plan to accommodate your new family situation may have slipped your mind. It's important for you to know what could happen if you pass away without ever including your new stepchildren in your will.
You may intend to treat your stepchildren equally with your children when it comes to inheritance. Some people make the mistake of assuming that their current estate plan's references to their children will automatically apply to their stepchildren as well, and don't bother to modify it. Consider the following scenarios.
Dying without a will
Under Pennsylvania intestacy law, if you die without a will, your stepchildren are not entitled to an inheritance from your estate unless you specifically adopted them. Likewise, your children will not automatically receive anything from your spouse's estate if you pass away before your spouse.
If you die without a will, and your spouse survives you, your possessions will pass to your spouse. Then, if your spouse passes away without having included your own biological children in their will, then all of your marital property will pass to your spouse's biological children, not yours.
Failing to name your stepchildren in your will
Even if you do have a will, you cannot rely on vague phrases such as “to my children” if you intend for your stepchildren to receive part of your estate. Often, when there is a dispute, courts interpret phrases such as “my children” to apply to your biological children only, unless you have legally adopted your stepchildren.
That's why it is best to list your stepchildren by their names in your estate plan. If you name them specifically, you can rest assured that they will receive what you intend to leave to them. Likewise, make sure that your spouse specifically names your own biological children in their will for the same reason.
Having a mixed family comes with all sorts of new joys and new challenges. If you take the proper steps now, you can avoid the heartache and conflict that comes with people being left out of a will unintentionally.