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This post was updated on March 30, 2022
Wills are a fascinating part of the legal world we all live (and die) in. You certainly don't need a will to have your estate dispersed upon your death. State and federal laws exist to handle that in a standardized administrative process.
But if you do have a will, it better be clear and just the way you like it, since it will be followed to the letter. You want to avoid it being left open to interpretation and litigation if any potential heirs argue that anything in your will is vague.
If your will is already in place, congratulations on being ahead of the curve! However, we all know that life is full of changes, so there are many times in life when you should change your will. That includes when you have children or when you adopt a child.
In the eyes of the law, your children are your children, regardless of whether they are biological or adopted. This happens as part of the legal proceedings of the adoption. There are laws in every state to protect the rights of adopted children, whether you die without a will or if you accidentally leave them out of the will.
If your will leaves the estate "to be divided equally among all my children," in the case of a legal adoption, all children, adopted and biological, will get an equal part of the estate.
Having estates divided equally among children is the safest route. This is a case of "less is more." But what if the will actually names beneficiaries and leaves the estate "to my two children, Jack and Jill"? Let's say these two are your biological children, but you have a third — equally-cherished — adopted child, Jane, who your will does not name.
What happens to Jane? Does she inherit anything? The answer to that is it depends. Many states presume that if a class of people is specifically named and someone in that class is not named, the testator's (you) intent was to exclude them. Jane does have standing as a potential heir and can file a lawsuit to overcome this presumption. But that can get messy and expensive for all of your children. After all, families can have strong emotional undercurrents.
Most people likely want to rest in peace upon their death, which may be easier said than done if your children are fighting over your estate. The best way to avoid this is to change your will after adopting a child — or after any life event— to make sure that you clearly state your wishes in writing.
Best practices include putting a reminder in your calendar to check your will once a year to make sure it still aligns with your current intent. And if not, make an appointment at once with an estate planning attorney or use FindLaw Legal Forms & Services to create a will — which you can update later — from the comfort of home. As the great Mahatma Gandhi once said: "Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever."
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.