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A stepchild is a child born to or legally adopted by your spouse before your marriage whom you have not legally adopted. If you legally adopt the child, your parent-child relationship is the same as if the child were biologically related to you. 

At common law, the stepparent/stepchild relationship conferred no rights and imposed no duties. According to Justice Schwellenbach of the Supreme Court of Washington, “The rule of the feudal law excluded from the inheritance descendants who were of the half blood. The rule never found favor in this country (USA)” In re Smith's Estate, 299 P. 2d 550 (1956).

Stepchildren are accorded the rights and responsibilities just like full biological children, but the relationship connecting stepchildren to stepparents has different implications in different areas of law. Note that laws governing rights of stepchildren vary by state, so be sure to check your state legislature to know your rights as a stepchild.

For example:


  • If your will leaves property to your children, state law (some following the Uniform Probate Code) will determine whether a stepchild qualifies as a child when used generally in a will and whether it means only biological children.


  • In order for a stepchild to be able to immigrate as a "child," the marriage creating the stepchild/stepparent relationship must have happened before the stepchild was 18 years of age.


  • The IRS states that your stepchild must live with you for more than six months of the calendar year, and the child has to be younger than you are unless the child has a permanent disability if you want to claim them as a dependent on your tax returns. 

[Last updated in September of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]