If an unforeseen accident takes your life, your estate should be left to your family to settle. However, this process may not be as clear for blended families.
In fact, without certain provisions, some family members could be completely excluded from the probate process, including inheritance.
California's intestate law
When a person passes away without a will, the state considers that person's death as "intestate." California's intestate law establishes defaults for how this person's assets will be inherited.
If a person without a will passes away with a surviving spouse, but no children, the spouse would inherit the estate. Those who do have children would normally pass on half of their separate property to the children, leaving the rest to their spouse. However, many families are not quite this simple.
Step-children inheritance rights
Step-children don't typically have any intestate rights. That means if they aren't explicitly included in a valid will, they won't be entitled to an inheritance. If you are married to the birth parent of your step-children and this person survives at the time of your death, they may simply be able to gift a portion of the estate to your step-children following the probate process.
However, without a will, the situation can become difficult if you have step-children from a previous marriage, a mix of children and step-children or both you and your spouse are involved in a fatal accident.
Protecting your children
Your step-children may be able to prove their right to intestate inheritance through California probate court. To do this, they would have to prove that you were involved in their upbringing through childhood and would have adopted them if not for extenuating circumstances.
However, going through this process could be timely and costly. It's in the best interest of your family to keep them from these complicated scenarios by devising an estate plan that outlines your wishes. Learning more about the process can help ensure that you cover all of your bases in a clear, comprehensive way that is enforceable by law.