If you have married someone who had children from a previous relationship, these are your step-children. Even if you have helped raised the child from a very young age, unless you have legally adopted the child, he will not be considered your child for inheritance purposes. This can have significant implications for your family.
For example, when Harry and Sally got married, Sally had a child John from a previous relationship. Harry helped to raise John from a young age, but he could not adopt him, because John’s father did not want to give up his parental rights. Sally did a simple Will, which basically said “Everything to Harry, if he survives me, if not – to John”. Harry did not have a Will, because he did not want to face his mortality and he did not understand the laws. When Sally died, all of her assets were transferred to Harry, as she intended.
However, since Harry never wrote a Will, when he died he was considered to die intestate. Under intestacy, decedent’s closest relatives inherit his money. As a result, since John was not legally considered Harry’s child, Harry’s estranged sister inherited all his money. This was clearly not what Sally had intended.
This situation could have been avoided, of course. Harry could have written a Will, leaving his assets to John. Harry could have set up a Trust, leaving his assets to John, while being managed by someone else while John is young. Harry could have named John as a beneficiary on some of his accounts or could have made John a joint owner on some of his real estate.
It is very important to talk to a knowledgeable attorney about a proper way of setting up your documents. Contact Katya Sverdlov at email@example.com or 212-709-8112 if you want to discuss your planning further.