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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 very standardized administrative process. But if you do have a will, it better be perfectly clear and just the way you like it, since it will be followed to the letter, and possibly opened up to interpretation and litigation if any terms at all are declared vague by potential heirs.
There are many times in life when you should change your will. That includes when you have children, or when you adopt a child.
Children Will Be Children
In the eyes of the law, your children are your children, regardless of whether they are natural or adoptive. 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 or a will or if they are accidentally left out of the will. If the will leaves the estate "the be divided equally among all my children," in the case of a legal adoption, all children, adoptive and natural, will get an equal part of the estate.
Less Is More
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 the natural children of the deceased, but there was also a third equally-cherished adopted child, Jane, who was not named.
What happens to Jane? Does she inherit anything? The answer to that is -- it depends. Many states presume that if a class of people are specifically named and someone in that class is not named, the testator's 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. After all, families can have strong emotional undercurrents.
Rest -n Peace -- Best Practices
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 your desires are clearly defined. 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 Attorney. 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.