Non-Traditional Families Should Have an Estate Plan – Here’s Why

Regardless Of Your Family Structure – Estate Planning Ensures Everyone Can Inherit According To Your Wishes

estate planninf for nontraditional families

Families come in all shapes and sizes, and regardless of your family structure, your loved ones can and should be provided for in the event of your death. Many people put off estate planning as something they will get around to eventually, or believe they are too healthy, young, or poor to need an estate plan. While everyone should have an estate plan for peace of mind and to ensure loved ones are cared for after their death, estate planning is especially important for families which many states may not recognize as traditional.” Estate planning, especially for “non-traditional” families, helps to ensure that everyone in the family can inherit in accordance with the family’s wishes.   

Life Partners

Many people today choose not to get married, or, after divorce, not to get married again. These people include those who refer to their spouse as a “common law” spouse. Common law marriages are only recognized in ColoradoIowaKansasMontana, New HampshireOklahomaRhode IslandTexasUtah, and DC.  

Many think that common-law marriages are still recognized in Pennsylvania and Ohio because they were previously. In Ohio, common-law marriages are now only recognized if the marriage was before October 10, 1991, and appropriate proof of the marriage can be offered. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann.§ 3105.12.) In Pennsylvania, common-law marriages are now only recognized if the marriage was before January 1, 2005(23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 1103.) 

Those wanting to protect a common-law spouse must plan their estate to do so. Others, for a variety of reasons, are not able to marry or elect not to do so or may have a marriage not recognized by their state, for example, a foreign marriage that has not been appropriately documented. Regardless of marital status, these individuals often elect life partners with whom to share their days. Providing for those most important to you is the purpose of estate planning. For unmarried couples, estate planning can provide for loved ones after death when state intestacy laws may not. 

Stepchildren and Foster Children

For couples with stepchildren and/or foster children, estate planning can ensure a share in inheritance for those in your charge after you pass away, even when state intestacy laws may not provide for them. For example, the question of who counts as a child under state intestacy laws can be confusing and counterintuitive. It is both entirely possible and reasonable to believe that those whom you consider your children will inherit when you pass away, while that may not actually be the case.  For example, for your children to inherit under the Pennsylvania intestacy laws, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania first must recognize them as your children, legally. Who you consider to be your children plays no role in this determination.  

Foster children or stepchildren who you never legally adopted will not automatically receive a share. Stepparents and non-traditional parents often do not consider this carveout when they neglect to prepare a will, assuming that their child will inherit like any other child. 

Grandparents, Other Family Members, or Friends as Guardians

Many grandparents or other family members raise the children of their children, siblings, or other relatives for a variety of benevolent reasons. Those informally raising the children of friends or family members may lack protection under state intestacy laws. These children may not be provided for if those raising them die without a will, because the state may not recognize them as your children. 


Children you formally, legally adopt will inherit the same as your biological children 

In Pennsylvania, if your child places one of your grandchildren up for adoption, that adopted child may still inherit from you as a grandparent. If the child is otherwise entitled to inherit under the intestacy laws and you have “maintained a family relationship, your grandchild may still inherit from you. 

Note, though, that the child may not be entitled to inherit if you have living children at the time of your deathas intestacy laws may not provide for grandchildren at all in that caseChildren placed up for adoption who are adopted by another family may not inherit from the parent who placed them up for adoption if the process is completed without an estate plan providing otherwise. 

Children Born Outside Marriage

In Pennsylvania, if a spouse was not married to a child’s mother when the child was born, then the child will receive a share of the spouse’s estate only if (1) the parents of the child married each other before the parent’s death, (2) the father openly holds out the child to be his and receives the child into his home or openly holds the child out to be his and provides support for the child during the life of the child, or (3) paternity is established. 

Pittsburgh Estate Planning Attorneys

Regardless of how you define your family, you can provide for anyone you choose in your estate plan, and an estate planning lawyer can help you make sure that your family is protected. If you are looking for help with your estate planning, no matter how simple or complex, the Estates and Trusts team at The Lynch Law Group is ready to help. When it comes to providing for your family in the event of your death, planning your estate can make sure everyone is protected. 

Chuck Hadad is a Partner at The Lynch Law Group. If you have questions or would like more information about developing an estate plan, please contact him at 724-776-8000 or

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