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Estate Litigation

Do Stepchildren Have Inheritance Rights in BC?

Divorce and remarriage are common. In many situations, this creates blended families with stepchildren and stepparents. While these families can be a source of great joy, they can also present unique legal challenges, especially when it comes to stepchildren and inheritance. This can lead to confusion and conflict if proper estate planning measures aren’t in place, as stepchildren do not have the same rights to inheritance as biological or legally adopted children.

Do Stepchildren Have a Right to Inheritance?

Stepchildren do not have a legal claim to inherit from a stepparent’s estate. Only biological or legally adopted children have the legal right to claim for inheritance. A stepchild only has a claim in cases where they are specifically named as a beneficiary in the stepparent’s will or have been formally adopted by the stepparent. Only biological or legally adopted children have the legal right to claim for inheritance.

Can Stepchildren Contest a Will?

Because stepchildren do not have the inherent right to their stepparent’s estate, they cannot contest a will if they weren’t included as a beneficiary. Generally, the main exception occurs if the stepchild believes that the will is void due to situations such as a lack of mental capacity or undue influence. Legally challenging a will is always complicated, even when a will is void. Courts can amend a will if they find it fails to execute the will-maker’s intentions correctly. However, there may be another solution depending on what type of will was established.

Mirror Wills vs Mutual Wills

Mirror and mutual wills are common estate planning options for married couples. Though these wills are similar, they have one major difference. When couples opt for a mirror will, they each have their own separate document with identical language and instructions for what beneficiaries to include and how to share assets with them. When one spouse passes away, the other spouse will have control over the estate, including the deceased spouse’s assets. Mirror wills are not a binding contract, meaning after one spouse passes, the surviving spouse can legally alter the will at whim even if they promised their deceased spouse they wouldn’t.

Mutual wills are very similar to mirror wills except they do provide a binding contract. Therefore, a surviving spouse cannot legally make any changes to the will and must honour its exact contents. If a surviving spouse tries to modify their mutual will, the stepchildren could contest these actions.

Example of Stepchildren Inheritance and Wills

Take the following example. A mother has two biological children of her own and remarries following a divorce. Her new husband has two biological children of his own and neither spouse legally adopts their stepchildren. The couple has a will that states all assets will be split equally among the four children upon both of the spouses’ deaths. The wife passes away first, which leaves the assets to the husband.

A mirror will legally permits the husband to write out his two stepchildren from their inheritance and leave everything to his biological children. The stepchildren cannot challenge this. But if the spouses had a mutual will, the stepchildren could legally contest the stepfather’s changes.