Americans are continuing to get divorced and remarried at a high rate. This has led to an increasing number of blended families where the spouses have children from previous marriages.
Despite this new reality the default estate laws have not kept up. They still reflect the general idea that people will get married only once in their lives. That means if you pass away without an estate plan, the laws of intestate succession will presume your spouse is also the parent of all your children.
In most states, the spouse will get everything, but the spouse will be under no legal obligation to pass anything on to his or her step-children.
The Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog recently wrote about this issue in "Estate Planning for your Step-Family."
When attempting to deal with step-families, it is vital that you have some sort of formal estate plan. At a minimum you need a will. Even better would be a more elaborate estate plan that specifically includes the names of everyone you consider to be in your family and precisely what you want them to inherit.
It should also include those people you do not consider a member of your family, such as former step-children.
If you have a blended family, you should see an estate planning attorney without delay to make sure the people you want to inherit your property are those who actually do.
Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (Oct. 7, 2016) "Estate Planning for your Step-Family."