Does the Law Consider a Step-child a Child for Purposes of Estate Planning?

If you have a step-child, be careful of making assumptions about their inheritance from you. There are certain assumptions we make throughout our lives, which we might call assumptions of common sense. The problem is, the law does not always make common sense, especially where probate is concerned. It is all too easy to go through life assuming one thing, but if the effects of that assumption still stand after you pass away, it is too late to say, “I never even thought to consider that!” One major such issue in Virginia estate planning is the matter of whether a step-child is automatically considered a descendant for inheritance purposes.

After all, it is said that when you marry someone, you marry their family. One would think this to hold particularly true when one marries someone who already has a child. It is often the case that a person considers their step-child to feel every bit their own as if that child had been born to them.

Yet Virginia law does not see it this way. Here, a step-child is not treated as a natural inheritor of one’s estate. This is why, while we always urge everyone to establish an estate plan, it is particularly vital that someone with one or more step-children do so. Dying without a will—especially if a step-parent has not taken the previous step of formally adopting a child as their own, which is unlikely if there is a biological parent in a similar role still on the scene—can mean that the step-child is completely omitted from inheriting any part of one’s estate. The intestate probate process will pass the step-child over as though they were a stranger even if you have absolutely no other living relatives.

This means that you should make or modify your will as soon as possible after marrying a child’s parent, being sure to include your new step-child in the plan along with any children you already have or may end up having with your new spouse, or with children you have from a previous relationship.

Let Us Help you Plan for Your Step-Child

If you are considering ways to plan for taking care of one or more step-children after you pass, then we invite you to attend one of Promise Law’s free estate planning workshops. These workshops provide a great foundation of information that everyone needs to make good estate planning decisions. Moreover, if you attend a workshop, you also get a complimentary one-on-one consultation with one of our attorneys.


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