In A Cinderella Story (starring the then superstar Hillary Duff) Sam Montgomery lives in Los Angeles, with her widowed father Hal who runs a popular diner. Hal marries a rather self-absorbed woman named Fiona who has twin daughters from her previous marriage, Brianna and Gabriella. Soon after their marriage Hal is killed during an earthquake purportedly leaving no will. Fiona receives all of his belongings, including the house, the diner, and, custody of Sam.
In intestacy, establishing the parent-child relationship is chiefly concerned with identifying the descendants of the intestate, that is, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren as well as, parents, grandparents, siblings nieces and nephews and cousins.
In most cases, there will be no difficulty establishing the relevant relationship. Children who are adopted will be treated as children of their adopting parents and, at the same time, cease to be children of their natural parents. Whether or not the fact that a person’s parents were not married to each other does not affect their ability to inherit as a result of intestacy.
In Australia, adopted children are not entitled to take a share of a biological relative’s estate upon intestacy.
However, in some jurisdictions where a biological parent has died and the surviving parent establishes a new relationship with a person who then agrees to adopt the child of the previous relationship. In these cases children who are subject to a “step-adoption” will be able to take on the intestacy of next of kin of their deceased parent.
Step-adoptions are uncommon in Australia. In NSW the Adoption Act 2000 restricts step adoptions to children who are at least five years old and with whom the stepparent has lived for at least three years.
There have been arguments that there is greater potential for children to retain or re-establish some form of social contact with the family of their other natural parent or establish a relationship with their grandparents notwithstanding the surviving natural parent’s new relationship.
However adopted children may not remain in contact with their former parent’s family. Therefore intestacy rules may lead to complications in locating adopted children or “double dipping” due to an entitlement to inherit from the estates of family of both the former parent and the new adoptive parent.
The matter of adoptive step children has been considered by law reform bodies in several jurisdictions, and it has been decided that in the case of adoption (including a step-parent adoption), the previous family relationships should have no recognition at law for the purposes of inheritance on intestacy.
If you are going to provide for stepchildren – regardless of whether you adopt them make sure that you make a Will and keep it up to date.
As you all know Sam finds Hal’s will hidden in her childhood fairytale book, stating that all of his belongings belong to her. Fiona, who signed the will as a witness (making her ineligible to inherit under that Will) has always claimed she’d never seen it, and is arrested by the Police. By way of restitution Fiona and her daughters are made to work off the money they stole from Sam at the diner