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.

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.

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.

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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

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