Can Stepchildren Contest a Will?
Family dynamics can be complex, and this must be taken into consideration when it comes to estate planning. However, even when a decedent drafts a will in order to ensure their wishes are carried out, there may still be reasons family members may seek to challenge it. If you are a stepchild, you might be wondering whether you have any inheritance rights and the legal standing to contest a stepparent’s will. In Minnesota, the answer isn’t always a simple yes or no — a stepchild’s ability to bring a will contest depends upon several factors.
Do Stepchildren Have Inheritance Rights?
In many cases, stepchildren may be just as close to their stepparent as they would a biological parent. But regardless of the emotional bond they may share with their stepparent, stepchildren do not automatically have legal inheritance rights under Minnesota law. If a stepparent dies intestate and passes away without a will, a stepchild does not have the same rights to their assets and property as a biological child. However, there are two specific instances in which a stepchild would be entitled to inherit: if they are legally adopted by the stepparent or named as a beneficiary in the estate plan.
Legally Adopted Stepchildren
In some families, a stepparent may legally adopt a stepchild to formalize the relationship and ensure it is protected under the law. Importantly, stepchildren who were legally adopted are entitled to the same share of their stepparent’s estate that a biological child would be able to receive. A stepchild of any age may be adopted in Minnesota, including those who have reached the age of majority and are over 18. As long as the adoption process was completed prior to the stepparent’s passing, the legally adopted stepchild would have intestate inheritance rights.
Stepchildren Named as Beneficiaries in a Will
Since stepchildren don’t have inheritance rights under the law unless they are legally adopted, there is nothing a testator would have to do if they do not wish for them to inherit from their estate. Nevertheless, even if a stepchild was not legally adopted, many stepparents treat their stepchildren the same as they would their biological children. Stepchildren are frequently named as beneficiaries in a stepparent’s will or estate plan in order to allow them to inherit.
Can a Stepchild Contest a Will?
For a stepchild or any other party to contest a will, they must have the legal standing to do so. In other words, to challenge a stepparent’s last will and testament, they must have been legally adopted by the stepparent or named as a beneficiary in the will. Grounds under which a stepchild with legal standing may be able to contest a will can include the following:
- Undue influence — A testator must sign their will on their own volition. If there is evidence that someone forced, threatened, or coerced the decedent into executing their will, a beneficiary may be able to challenge the will on the grounds of undue influence.
- Improper execution — There are several requirements that must be met under Minnesota law for a will to be valid. Significantly, the will signing must have been witnessed by two people. If the formalities for executing the will are not satisfied, the will won’t be a valid legal instrument.
- Fraud or forgery — Fraud in executing a will can occur if a beneficiary made a false statement to induce the testator into changing the terms of the will in order to benefit them. It can also arise in situations where the testator was misled into believing the document they were signing was something other than a will or their signature was forged.
- Lack of testamentary capacity — A person signing a will must have the capacity to know what they are signing and understand the terms in the document. If the testator does not comprehend the consequences of signing the will or know what they are giving away, the document will be invalid.
Notably, even if a decedent died with a will, intestate rights could come into play if the will is determined to be not valid. For example, if a court determines the will must be set aside due to any of the foregoing grounds, it can be as if the decedent passed without a will. In such cases, the estate would be distributed to the beneficiaries who would have inherited under Minnesota intestate law — this can include biological children, adopted children, and stepchildren who were legally adopted.
Contact an Experienced Minnesota Probate and Estate Litigation Attorney
If you are a stepchild who believes you have grounds to challenge your stepparent’s will, it’s essential to consult with a knowledgeable probate and estate litigation attorney. At Dave Burns Law Office, I provide trusted counsel for Minnesota will contests and probate issues. If you would like to discuss a probate litigation matter, I welcome you to contact me at (612) 677-8351 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. I assist clients throughout the Twin Cities metro area and am available to meet with clients in both Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The Dave Burns Law Office hopes you find this article helpful. But please do not rely on it as legal advice. The law changes regularly and the outcome of any legal matter depends on its unique circumstances. View full disclaimer