Ensuring Your Stepchildren Are Beneficiaries in a Trust or Will

According to a report that the National Bureau of Economic Research published in 2016, parents who had a stepchild had an approximately 30% higher likelihood of planning inheritances that were unequal. Sometimes, this is an intentional decision – but other times, the parents simply don’t realize how limited stepchildren inheritance rights are. To prevent leaving the stepchildren out of your estate plan, it’s crucial to know what it takes to guarantee their inheritance.

Leaving Your Family With a Plan

Passing away without a comprehensive and specific estate plan means difficulty and uncertainty for your family on top of the heightened emotions of mourning a loss. It’s important to remember that stepchildren who haven’t been legally adopted don’t automatically have inheritance rights. It takes an estate planning mechanism like a trust or will and working with a professional estate planning lawyer to designate them specifically as beneficiaries of your estate.

Limited Inheritance Rights for Stepchildren

The inheritance rights are not nearly as clear as they are with biological children when it comes to stepchildren. Estate planning is already complicated as it is, without adding on top of it the uncertainties and complexities of leaving assets to your stepchildren. There are sometimes some legal hoops that you have to jump through to make it happen – and many ways that it can go wrong if you’re not operating under correct information and taking the proper steps.

Many people who have both stepchildren and biological children mistakenly believe stating their intention to leave certain assets to their “children” in their will is sufficient to specify the inclusion of a stepchild. Unfortunately, this is how many stepchildren end up left out of a will or estate.

Legal Document Options

There are three main routes for you to take in securing the inheritances of your stepchildren. Stepparents may choose between naming their stepkids as beneficiaries of their last will and testament, a trust, or a beneficiary designation. Each option has its own advantage, so the right one for you and your family depends on your unique situation.

Last Will and Testament

Stepchildren can be named as beneficiaries of a will. Their inheritance may be a designated amount of money or a percentage of the estate’s total value when you pass away.


With a trust, it’s also possible to name stepchildren as beneficiaries. There are even specialized options for all of the different situations in life, such as special needs trusts for those with physical or mental challenges and minor’s trusts for underage stepkids.

Beneficiary Designation

Beneficiary designations are often used for passing on specific types of accounts, including retirement funds and life insurance. It’s a way of gifting money to stepchildren, done by naming them as beneficiaries the same way you would in any of the other legal documents.

The most important thing to remember with each of these options is to make sure that your intention to leave assets to your stepchildren is explicitly stated in the language of your legal document, whichever one you go with. Even if you only mistakenly leave your stepchildren out in the wording of your document, it can easily leave them with little to no inheritance.

Estate Planning You Can Trust

If you need assistance from an estate planning lawyer in order to ensure that everyone in your family will be taken care of once you’re gone, contact the Knee Law Firm, LLC now. With these types of estate planning matters, it’s important to handle the issue as soon as possible so that your assets are handled the way you want them to be.

Call the Knee Law Firm at 201-996-1200 for all of your estate planning needs. Our Hackensack offices are pleased to provide a combined experience of over 60 years in estate planning matters. With us, you get the care and attention of a small firm with the experience level of a big firm.