Women and Money: Protecting Your Stepchildren

With the rise of nontraditional families in this country, children no lon­ger mean primarily children born of the marriage of two parents who keep living together. Stepchildren provide interesting issues in that, unless legally adopted, a step-child does not have the legal right to inherit your assets. You must make provisions in your will, trust or by the designation of assets in order for your stepchildren to receive an inheritance.

In the “yours, mine and ours” families, who will receive what when both parents dies is sometimes easier to decide than if only one person in the couple has children and those children have another parent. In my experience much depends on how old the step­children were when brought into the new marriage, what the comparative wealth has been and what the relationship is between the stepchildren and step parent. I have had step parents refuse to include stepchildren in their plans because the stepchildren have been rude and uncooperative with them, and they have felt no need to benefit them. I have had step parents give sometimes nominal, sometimes significant sums to the step children to show that they mattered. I have had step parents include step children as if they were their own children. I have seen step parents treat different step children differently – giv­ing more to those with whom they’d had a closer relationship and less to others. These are tough waters to navigate, and consideration should be given to the consequences of these decisions.

When a decision is reached, it is important that the plans for husband and wife are coordinated. If, for example, you are married and have children from a prior mar­riage and you die first, leaving all of your assets to your husband outright, and his will does not include your children, then your children will be disinherited by both of you. Many parents in subsequent marriages choose to leave assets to their children at their death even if the spouse survives. That provides assurance that no matter what the spouse does or who the spouse subsequently marries, those children will be provided for. A good vehicle for this is additional life insurance because that does not make the surviving spouse feel that it came out of the wealth they acquired together. (If life insurance is the vehicle it should be owned in an irrevocable insurance trust so that it is insulated from estate taxes).

Another wrinkle in the traditional family is those children born to gay partnerships or marriages. If you are the parent or grandparent in that situation you may be concerned as to the legal consequences. In most states, that child can inherit as a natural or adopted child of the parent, but not from the same sex spouse. In some states a married same sex couple can go through a second parent adoption and in some states that will then be recognized for inheritance purposes. If the child or grandchild is not the natural or adopted child and you want that child or grandchild to receive assets in the estate plan, then it is important say so specifically in your estate planning documents and in the designation of beneficiary forms for your retirement plans and annuities.

Patricia Annino is a sought after speaker and nationally recognized authority on women and estate planning.  She educates and empowers women to value themselves and their contributions in order to ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS in the world – and in so doing PROTECT THEMSELVES, those they love, and the organizations they care about.  For more visit:  www.patriciaannino.com




  1. I’m thrilled to see you giving attention to such an important topic that so often gets overlooked. My role in working with parents in step and blended family situations is to guide them through the “tough waters to navigate” when it comes to the fair vs. equal conversations related to yours, mine and ours scenarios. Advisors often contact me when emotions start to flare, or when significant decisions continually get put off because of unresolved issues related to blended family dynamics.

    Educating people about what they can do and how they can go about taking care of their estate planning needs as you’ve done here is so essential. Thank you for this!

    • Emily, Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I could not agree more – the tricky emotions that can surround these issues can be very unsettling and it is important to have someone like you “on call”. Patricia

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