About one-third of all Americans—through birth, divorce, and remarriage—are part of a stepfamily. But many of the laws governing familial relationships have lagged far behind this reality.
A good example is the California law that establishes the right to sue for wrongful death. Under California Code of Civil Procedure § 377.60(b), a stepchild can sue for the wrongful death of a stepparent only if the stepchild is “dependent on the decedent.” Thus, adult stepchildren are often barred from pursuing a claim, even if their relationship with the stepparent was of long duration and in most respects indistinguishable from a biological parent-child relationship.
Similarly, under the same statute, a stepparent has standing to pursue a wrongful death action for the death of an adult stepchild only in certain limited circumstances that rarely exist. Under California Code of Civil Procedure § 377.60(a), if the decedent is unmarried and childless, then a wrongfuldeath action can be maintained by “the persons… who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession.” And under Probate Code § 6402(b), if there is no surviving spouse or domestic partner, and if there is no surviving issue, property passes to the decedent’s “parent or parents” equally.
Probate Code § 6450 defines “parent” as one might expect:
[A] relationship of parent and child exists for the purpose of determining intestate succession by, through, or from a person in the following circumstances:
(a) The relationship of parent and child exists between a person and the person’s natural parents, regardless of the marital status of the natural parents.
(b) The relationship of parent and child exists between an adopted person and the person’s adopting parent or parents.
But Probate Code § 6454 provides in relevant part:
For the purpose of determining intestate succession by a person ... from or through a foster parent or stepparent, the relationship of parent and child exists between that person and the person’s foster parent or stepparent if both of the following requirements are satisfied:
(a) The relationship began during the person’s minority and continued throughout the joint lifetimes of the person and the person’s foster parent or stepparent.
(b) It is established by clear and convincing evidence that the foster parent or stepparent would have adopted the person but for a legal barrier.
Please see full article below for more information.