Given how common it is for Americans to divorce and remarry, you might expect inheritance laws to account for stepchildren. But they don’t—at least, not in New York.
New York’s laws for intestate inheritance govern those situations in which a person dies without a will. They’re basically the state’s plans for your estate, and they do not account for any stepchildren you might have raised but didn’t legally adopt.
You know who you love and how you love them
Unlike the State of New York, you know who you love and how you want to support them after you’re gone. If you raised your stepchildren since they were toddlers, you may very well love them as though they were your own flesh and blood. You probably think of them as your son and daughter—rather than “stepson” and “stepdaughter”—and to get the courts to accept the strength of your bonds, you will want to create a will or trust.
Even if you did adopt your stepchildren and New York intestate law acknowledges their interests in your estate, it does so with zero subtlety or finesse. Intestate law transforms inheritance into a matter of ratios, satisfied only by raw cash values. There’s no accounting for the sentimental value of family heirlooms. Nor is there any accounting for the value of the time you spent together. If you have a biological child from your former marriage, intestate law grants that child the same claim to your house as those you adopted and raised—even if that child never set a foot through the door.
A will or revocable trust allows you to tell the state who you love and want to support. They allow you to divide your estate as you feel is best, potentially leaving your house or other asset with the person who will appreciate it most, even if that doesn’t make the split completely even.
Writing our own epilogues
It’s hard for humans to really consider our mortality and think about what we’ll leave behind us when we’re gone. But if you raised your stepchildren as your own, you’ll want to make the effort. Taking the time to plan your estate can make the difference between accidentally disinheriting your children and making sure you’ve given them every possible advantage.