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Can A Stepchild Contest A Will? Expert Guide!

Biological children can contest a will, but what about stepchildren? Can a stepchild contest a will and receive a share in the inheritance? Here’s a brief overview:

There’s no straight answer. A stepchild can contest a will and may not; it all depends on various circumstances. For example, legal stepchildren (those who were adopted by the deceased in their life) can contest a will easily compared to those who are not legally adopted.

It’s because the children legally adopted by the decedent have inheritance rights equal to those of the biological children. Below, we’ll discuss this topic in more detail so you can better understand the complexities and decide whether it’s suitable for you to contest the will or not.

What Makes A Stepchild?

First, let’s understand what makes a stepchild from the viewpoint of the legal system. A stepchild is a child who isn’t yours biologically or legally through adoption but is your spouse’s biological or adopted child.

These stepchildren won’t be considered equal to biological or legally adopted children in your inheritance because they are the legal children of the spouse, not yours. The situation would be different if you legally adopted your spouse’s child.

In case of adopting the spouse’s child, they’ll be considered your children and have the same rights as your biological or previously adopted children.

Are Stepchildren Cut Out of The Will?

Although, as per the law of California, stepchildren don’t have any rights over the inheritance of step-parents, they’re not cut out of the will. If someone wants, they can specifically nominate their stepchildren for some or all assets.

The situation only became worse when the decedent didn’t mention the “stepchildren” name and only nominated the legal children. In this situation, the court is bound to distribute the estate among the beneficiaries nominated in the will.

Can A Stepchild Contest A Will?

Yes, a stepchild can contest a will under certain conditions. One scenario is when the stepchild discovers a new will that includes their name. Another reason is when the stepchild was mentioned in a previous will and questions the legitimacy of the latest version.

Besides that, if there was a mistake, like a decedent promising an asset to the stepchild but not updating the will, the stepchild can contest the will. But remember, just because you can contest a will doesn’t mean you always have to unless you’ve strong evidence.

What Factors Does The Court Consider While Making A Decision?

The entire process of contesting a will and proving your claim in court isn’t as simple as it may seem. You must have solid evidence to back your claim because the intestate law and the current will content aren’t on your side.

Besides the evidence, the court considers many other aspects as well, such as:  

  • The relationship the stepchild and the deceased had.
  • Contributions of a stepchild in the estate.
  • Whether the relationship between both parties continued throughout life.
  • Why hasn’t the decedent adopted the stepchild legally?

After considering all these aspects and the evidence, the court makes decisions. The decision can be in your favor or the biological children’s favor. It depends on how you present the case in court.

How Long Do You Have To Contest A Will In California?

The statute of limitation to contest a will depends on the state in which you live. In some states, the time limit is a few months; in others, like Texas, it’s a 2-year timeframe.

In California, the statute of limitation is 120 days from the date the probate case is opened. After 120 days, you cannot contest a will within the probate case. So make sure to consider this time limit while also preparing a strong case.

What Evidence Do You Need To Contest A Will?

Below is the list of the top four types of evidence needed to contest a will.

  • Medical Evidence: If you’ve any medical evidence like a report, or medical history that can show the deceased wasn’t sound mind while making the decisions of will can help a lot. You can use the medical reports to show in court that the will is invalid.
  • Proof of Threats: Evidence of threats or coercion made against the decedent by someone benefiting from the will can help contest the will’s validity.
  • Expert Opinions: You can also use the opinions of psychiatrists and psychologists to prove the claim that the deceased wasn’t in the right mental state to make the decisions of the will.
  • Documented Evidence: Documents such as emails, messages, calls, or video recordings in which the decedent has promised you assets can serve as compelling evidence in court.

Final Thoughts

In short, the answer to your question, can a stepchild contest a will, is yes. As a stepchild, you can contest a will. But if you’re not a legal child of the decedent, you need solid evidence and ground for contesting a will. 

A legal stepchild can contest a will easily because they have equal inheritance rights as a biological child. Regardless of your legal status, it’s important to understand that winning the case is not guaranteed. 

So, it’s advisable to consult with a probate lawyer before starting the process of contesting a will. Discussing the chances of success with a legal expert can provide valuable insights and guidance to help you make informed decisions.

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Dustin MacFarlane’s primary focus is on Elder Law and protecting families and seniors. He is a Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust, and Probate Law by the State Bar of California Board of Specialization — a rare distinction.

Prior to becoming an attorney, Mr. MacFarlane worked in the Long Term Care industry. After becoming licensed to practice law in January of 2009, Elder Law quickly became his focus. Seeing the need during his former career, Mr. MacFarlane pursued Elder Law as a primary area of practice.

By Dustin MacFarlane

Dustin MacFarlane’s primary focus is on Elder Law and protecting families and seniors. He is a Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust, and Probate Law by the State Bar of California Board of Specialization — a rare distinction.

Prior to becoming an attorney, Mr. MacFarlane worked in the Long Term Care industry. After becoming licensed to practice law in January of 2009, Elder Law quickly became his focus. Seeing the need during his former career, Mr. MacFarlane pursued Elder Law as a primary area of practice.