From time to time, we meet clients who think they understand estate planning, but in reality, they are misinformed. In this blog series, we'll take a look at a few common misconceptions we hear and set the record straight regarding estate planning in Georgia.
Misconception #3: “I love my spouse's children like they were my own—of course the state will include them when distributing my assets.”
We often work with clients in blended families who want to include their spouse's children in their estate plan. Some have disregarded estate planning because they assume that their stepchildren will automatically inherit from them if they do not have a Will in place. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
If you die without a Will, your surviving heirs under the law will be the ones to inherit your assets. The default heirs are your spouse and your descendants, who are your children (by birth or adoption) and their descendants. This does not include step-children.
If you have no surviving spouse and no descendants, your closest surviving relatives will inherit from you, often in this order: parents, siblings (and their descendants), grandparents, and then aunts and uncles.
If you have a blended family, be careful not to assume that stepchildren, stepsiblings, or other step-family will automatically be included in this list. Only your biological children, or children that you have legally adopted, are recognized as your heirs under the law. If you die without a Will, your stepchildren will not inherit from you unless you have legally adopted them during your lifetime. A similar principle applies to other step relatives; for example, a stepsibling likely would not be able to inherit unless they have been adopted by your parents. In essence, if you die without a Will your stepchildren and other step-family could be inadvertently disinherited.
If you want to make sure that your step-family will inherit your assets, you must have a valid Will in place communicating your wishes. Assuming that the state's inheritance plan will work for you is often a risky gamble, especially for those in a blended family.