Blended families are an extremely common makeup of today’s American families. Unfortunately, California estate laws do not make provisions for these loved ones. In order to make sure your blended family members are properly cared for by your estate, partner with a qualified estate planning attorney.
Any family composed of stepparents, step-siblings, or half-siblings, as the result of subsequent marriages, is considered a blended family. Many children in the US live in a blended home. Some estimates report that around half of American marriages are remarriages.
However, despite the normalcy of blended families in America, inheritance law in California does not make provisions for blended family members to receive any portion of a decedent’s estate. For this reason, drafting and establishing an estate plan is essential for California blended families.
If there is no existing estate plan that would otherwise lay out your wishes upon your passing, then everything you own will be accounted for, named, appraised, and dispersed to your next of kin by the court in a legally set probate process. The court follows a tight succession plan when determining next of kin.
Firstly, community property, also known as shared or marital property, will go completely to the surviving spouse. Everything else is considered separate property and will be divided among other family members. The succession order of kin is as follows:
After cousins, if no other eligible heir can be found and contacted, then the state claims the estate as unclaimed property until one can appear. Please note that blended family members — those who are related by marriage but not by blood — are not listed in the state’s success plan. If you pass away without an estate plan, stepparents, step-siblings, and stepchildren will not be eligible to receive your inheritance.
In addition to the consequences for inheritance for blended families where there is no estate plan, there are also legal repercussions for medical care. Without an estate plan that would otherwise outline power of attorney, your blended family would not have any legal say in your care if you were to become incapacitated. This means that stepchildren, for example, no matter how close they may be to you, would be unable to approve or deny medical care or procedures on your behalf.
There are several legal documents you can draft that will establish a comprehensive estate plan for your entire family, including blended family members. Here are a few of the most relevant:
By establishing a proper estate plan, you maintain control over who will receive inheritance or care for you and your estate in the event of your incapacitation. Because of the flexibility of estate plans, you can effectively include any desired blended family members in the plan.
A: The cost of drafting a comprehensive estate plan in California will vary depending on several factors. Generally, you can expect the cost to range between around $1,500 – $5,000. The complexity of the estate plan, your attorney’s experience level, and the types of documents drafted in your estate plan will affect the cost. Despite the upfront costs required to establish an estate plan, doing so actually provides long-term savings by avoiding lengthy probates and eases the process for your loved ones later.
A: California inheritance law can be both comprehensive and complex. Generally, when a person dies, all shared or marital property now belongs to their spouse. Separate property is split between the spouse and any surviving children. If the person has no children, the separate property is split between the spouse and the decedent’s parents. Typically, blended family members, such as stepchildren, do not automatically inherit any of a decedent’s estate. This is why estate planning is important for blended families.
A: There are three basic elements to creating an estate plan:
A: In California, beneficiaries do not need to worry about paying taxes on inheritance, as there is no state-level estate or inheritance tax. If, however, the inheritance later produces income, either through interest accrued on an investment made with the inheritance or through other means, the beneficiary will be responsible for paying taxes on the income produced. If the estate exceeds $12.92 million, however, the beneficiary will owe federal tax on the inheritance.
If you have an extended or blended family that you wish to ensure will be included in your estate, talk with a qualified and experienced California estate planning attorney to begin setting up a new estate plan or to update an existing estate plan to include blended family members. Contact our office at the law firm of Robert G. Petrovich, Attorney at Law, today.
Based in San Marino (near Pasadena), Mr. Petrovich handles estate planning, probate, business law, real estate, and other legal matters throughout the San Gabriel Valley.