You love your stepchildren and you’re thinking about adopting them — but there’s no hurry, right? You might feel that adopting your stepchild is something you can do whenever…When you have more free time, more extra funds, and more mental bandwidth to pay attention, for example. Or maybe once your stepchild is older.

This might make sense if adopting your stepchild were just a ceremony or ritual. But it’s a legal commitment with legal consequences. Here are some things to think about if you’re putting off adopting your stepchild.

A legal right to make decisions

There are many situations in which a parent needs to make legal decisions for a child. Decisions about medical care, school schedules, and even permission slips can only be made by the legal parents.

If your stepchild needs medical care while your spouse is at work or otherwise unavailable, it would be best for you to be able to make those decisions.

If your stepchild’s other biological parent is still in the picture, they might cooperate with you…or they might not. But even if the other parent’s parental rights have been terminated, a stepparent does not have authority to make decisions for a stepchild.

When you adopt your stepchildren, you are their legal parent and have the right to make decisions for them, just as you would for a biological child.

An end to other parental rights

While biological parents may have a friendly relationship and your stepchild’s noncustodial parent might be part of their life, adopting your stepchild ends the other biological parent’s legal rights. If fear of a future custody battle is a source of stress or the other parent is a bad influence in your stepchild’s life, this can be a beneficial move.

Terminating parental rights doesn’t have to require ending the relationship between the child and the other parent. It can clarify the situation, though, and make your stepchild feel more secure.

The worst scenario

Of course, you don’t want to think about the possibility of your spouse’s death, or your own. Still, the fact remains: if your spouse were to die in an accident, your stepchild would be in an uncertain position. The surviving biological parent might end up with custody of the child; you would not automatically have the right to keep the child in your home or to make other decisions for your stepchild.

If you were to die intestate without adopting your stepchild, your stepchild would have no rights to inherit from you.

Heimer Law can assist with estate planning issues and the other legal questions that can come up in these situations. It’s best to think ahead and make sure that your stepchild’s legal position is secure before a tragedy makes it hard to deal with these important issues.

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