Earlier this month, my colleague wrote an article concerning step-parent adoptions. The article was of great interest to me as I am a stepchild and a member of a blended family. The article also piqued my interest as an estate planning attorney. Do succession laws treat stepparents and stepchildren differently? Do blended families need to make special estate planning considerations? The answer to both is yes.
Blended families are formed when remarriages occur or when children living in a household share only one or no biological parents. The presence of a stepparent, stepsibling, or half-sibling designates a family as blended. Sixteen percent of children in the United States, approximately one-in-six, live with a stepparent, stepsibling, or half-sibling. Blended families are also prevalent in popular culture. The most recognized example is the TV show The Brady Bunch, and other examples include the 1998 film Stepmom and the 2014 film Blended.
While blended families are common in today’s society, the law continues to treat them as unique. For instance, stepchildren are not considered children and step parents are not considered parents under North Dakota’s Uniform Probate Code:
“Child” includes an individual entitled to take as a child under this title by intestate succession from the parent whose relationship is involved and excludes a person who is only a stepchild, a foster child, a grandchild, or any more remote descendant. N.D.C.C. § 30.1-01-06(6).
“Parent” includes any person entitled to take, or who would be entitled to take if the child died without a will, as a parent under this title, by intestate succession from the child whose relationship is in question and excludes any person who is only a stepparent, foster parent, or grandparent.
As you can see in the underlined portions, stepchildren and stepparents are specifically excluded from the definitions of “child” and “parent,” respectively. This means that stepchildren and stepparents are not considered “descendants” under N.D.C.C. § 30.1-01-06(10). Under North Dakota’s laws of intestate succession (laws regarding persons who die without a will), stepparents and stepchildren are not entitled to the same share of an estate as a “parent” or a “child” even if the deceased treated them or referred to them as such. North Dakota Century Code Chapter 30.1-04 does describe certain scenarios in which members of blended families may inherit portions of an estate, but the percentage and value of those portions will vary depending on the facts.
What if I want to provide for my stepparents or stepchildren? What if I want to treat my blended family as equals? What if I want to exclude members of my blended family? The best answer to these questions is to execute a will describing your wishes. A will ensures that your wishes are fulfilled and your estate is distributed as you see fit.
I often tell my clients that death is unpredictable, and having a will allows you to plan for your death, provide peace of mind to your loved ones, and remove some of the burden and heartache your loved ones will experience after your death. This advice is especially true for blended families. A will makes your wishes known and provides for any and all members of your blended family. The decision is yours. If you die without a will, North Dakota law lays out how your estate will be divided and passed. If you die with a will, you get to decide how your estate is divided and passed.
If you have any questions regarding wills or other estate planning documents for blended families, we welcome your call at Severson, Wogsland & Liebl in Fargo. And as always, if you have general questions about estate planning, including probate, health care directives, living wills, wills, trusts, power of attorney, and asset protection, contact our Estate Planning Team at 701-297-2890 or send us an email below.
The information contained in this article and on this website is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.