Are Stepchildren Allowed to Contest a Will in South Carolina?

By Heather Frances J.D.

If someone leaves a valid will when he dies, the terms of that will generally control how his property will be distributed. However, there may be disagreements about whether the will is actually valid or what the terms mean. In such cases, certain persons have legal ability to contest the will. Sometimes stepchildren have that right but other times they do not.

If someone leaves a valid will when he dies, the terms of that will generally control how his property will be distributed. However, there may be disagreements about whether the will is actually valid or what the terms mean. In such cases, certain persons have legal ability to contest the will. Sometimes stepchildren have that right but other times they do not.

Probate

Generally, wills must go through the probate process to be recognized before the estate can be administered. Since the terms of the will guide the estate’s administration, the court will not allow an administration to proceed until it is satisfied that the will is valid. Once the will is accepted, the court may appoint the person named in the will to manage the estate, and that person will gather the estate’s assets, pay creditors, and distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries named in the will.

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Standing

Before you can contest the validity or terms of a South Carolina will, you must have “standing,” which means you must have a status that gives you the right to sue. For example, a stranger couldn’t challenge the will because he has no relationship to the case; the decedent’s spouse could sue since she stands to benefit from having the will correctly interpreted. Typically, only those mentioned in the will, or in a previous will, have standing to contest a will. Heirs who would inherit by state law if the decedent had no will also have standing.

Intestate Succession

When someone dies without a valid will or leaves property not distributed by the terms of his will, he is said to have died “intestate,” and South Carolina law dictates who inherits from the decedent’s estate in such circumstances. For example, the surviving spouse and children often inherit first. In South Carolina, stepchildren are not included in the list of relatives who may inherit from a decedent who dies without a will. Thus, a stepchild cannot gain standing to contest the will by using South Carolina's intestate succession laws unless he is otherwise related to the decedent.

Adopted Stepchildren

Adopted stepchildren are treated differently than stepchildren who were not adopted. Adoption gives the stepchild the same legal inheritance rights as a biological child, so an adopted stepchild has standing to sue under South Carolina's intestate succession laws in the same way a biological child could.

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References

Related articles

Probate Laws on the Next of Kin

When someone dies without a will, state laws -- the so-called "laws of intestate succession" -- determine who inherits the estate. If the deceased left a surviving spouse or children, these people are considered "next of kin" and generally inherit the entire estate. Although state laws vary, there is a common descent and distribution scheme that applies to determine who is next of kin -- that is, next in line to inherit -- if there is no surviving spouse or children.

Pennsylvania State Law for Adoption Inheritance Rights

If you write a will to include your adopted child or children, the will governs how assets will be distributed to those children upon your death. An adopted child may still be able to inherit if the parent omitted her from a will. If a parent did not write a will, that parent's assets will be distributed through the state's laws of intestate succession, which means assets are distributed to relatives according to state law.

What Are the Chances of Contesting a Will & Winning?

A will contest or will challenge is a case brought to a probate court in order to test a will's validity. Most will contests are brought on the grounds that the testator, or the person who made the will, did not have the capacity to make a will or was unduly influenced. Because probate courts assume that a signed and witnessed will is valid, a will contest can be difficult to win, according to FindLaw.

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