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A will can be a useful tool for passing on inheritance, protecting an estate, and carrying on the wishes of the deceased. It can also be a complex document containing legal intricacies and uncertain language. Add a complex family structure to the mix and you may have questions about who can or can’t contest a will. At Heban, Murphree, and Lewandowski, we take the time to answer every question and put our extensive probate and estate experience to work.
Given the increasing rates of divorce and remarriage, many wills include stepchildren. If you are a stepchild, you may be wondering whether you are legally entitled to a portion of an inheritance. In many cases, an estate will be left equally to stepchildren and biological children.
Other times the stepchildren are left out of the will. If a stepchild was removed from the will soon before the deceased passed, it is possible that there was undue influence. Undue influence includes a biological child convincing a parent to remove a stepchild for their own benefit. It could also include a caretaker attempting to solidify an inheritance for themselves.
The majority of states do not provide nonadopted children with the right to inherit. They are not granted status as an heir without being indicated as such in the will. This is true even if the stepchild’s biological parent has predeceased the stepparent. In states where they are considered heirs, it is last in line. Without a will, the laws of intestacy apply. In those cases, a stepchild has no legal right to inheritance.
Even if you had a close relationship with your stepparent, or even lived with them, you aren’t entitled to an inheritance. To challenge a will as a stepchild, you must have been named in a prior will and then removed. Without being previously named, you do not have legal standing. Those with legal standing are beneficiaries named in a previous will, beneficiaries named in the current will, or individuals who are entitled to the estate if there was no will (due to intestacy laws).
If you have been removed from a will and you suspect any of the below circumstances, you may be able to contest the will:
In addition, you may be able to challenge the validity of a will if any of the following applies:
What Other Factors are Used to Determine a Stepchild’s Ability to Challenge a Will?