It is not an uncommon issue for a probate court to receive a contest of will from the step-child of a deceased person.  Often times, people wrongly assume that when they pass away step-children will be considered by the court as biological children, and treated accordingly.  In California, this is not true.

When a person dies without a will in the state of California, known as “intestate”, the state will only consider biological or legally adopted children as rightful heirs.  The only time a step-child will be considered is if there is indisputable evidence that a relationship existed between the two from the child’s life as a minority, and that the parent would absolutely have adopted the step-child if not for some form of legal barrier that prevented him or her from doing so.

When an estate is probated and heirs receive notice of inheritance, step-children can be shocked to learn that they are not included. This is one of the importance factors of leaving a will, even if you don’t believe you have any assets to distribute.  The same can be said for spouses and ex-spouses.  If a decedent was in his or her second marriage, and failed to change a will or beneficiary, then an ex-spouse may receive distribution rather than a current spouse.

The bottom line to the step-children issue is to make sure that if a legal adoption has not taken place, a will specifically names the step-children as heirs to the estate.  This will ensure that they receive a proper portion of distribution, and there will be not contests filed that could unnecessarily hold a case up in probate court for months or even years.