Some people in Los Angeles find love a second time and get married a second time. This can lead to a blended family with stepchildren and stepparents. Many blended families can co-exist successfully but when it comes to estate planning, failing to clearly express your wishes can lead to unintended results under California law, such as your new spouse getting the entire estate and your children getting nothing.
For example, imagine a couple where the house belongs to one spouse as his or her separate property. That spouse, who has two children from her first marriage, passes away first while intestate, a term meaning without a will or trust. Under California’s intestate law, ownership of the house would be equally divided between the surviving spouse and his stepchildren as tenants in common. That means that each co-owner can sell his or her share, but it could be that the decedent had meant to leave the house to her children alone.
Similarly, if the spouses owned the home as joint property, when one spouse dies the surviving spouse gets sole ownership of the property and the decision of whom to leave it to is up to him or her — potentially leaving the decedent’s children with nothing.
All of this illustrates the importance of having a well-drafted will or trust. This can be especially true when adult children, who may not get along with their stepparent, are in the picture. Consulting an experienced estate planning attorney can provide peace of mind that your intentions for your assets are carried out.
Source: Lake County News, “Estate Planning: Disentangling stepparents and stepchildren,” Dennis Fordham, Feb. 2, 2013