Inheritance law and inheritance tax law for stepchildren

How can my stepchildren inherit? Are they treated equal to biological children?

When a marriage breaks up or the partner dies, we often get into new love relationships. The resulting family constellations are called patchwork families. If one of the partners brings children into the marriage, they become stepchildren.
In the ideal case, the biological relationship does not play a role in everyday life. But in the case of inheritance, however, there are some differences.

Stepchildren aren’t equal to biological children in the eyes of inheritance law

After the death of the stepparent, it can happen that the stepchildren receive nothing from the inheritance. The biological children can at least claim the compulsory portion of the inheritance. Stepchildren, however, do not have a claim to a compulsory portion as they are not legally related to the stepfather or stepmother, but are related by marriage.
They are only legal heirs of their biological parent and not of the stepparent.

If you want your stepchild to have a share of your inheritance, you must take appropriate measures yourself.

Share the inheritance with stepchildren

1. Adoption

The first option is to adopt the stepchild. By adopting the child, it is legally treated as a biological child and thus becomes the legal heir of the stepparent. The prerequisite is that there is a parent-child relationship between the parent and the stepchild.
Adoption is often costly and does not always work out without problems. It is often relevant when it is also a matter of partly disinheriting biological children. Adoption leads to an increase in the number of legal heirs and thus, arithmetically, to lower compulsory portions.
In most cases, a testamentary disposition is the simpler and cheaper solution.

2. Disposition of property upon death

With wills and inheritance contracts, legal succession can be partly circumvented. Parallel to drawing up the spousal will or the contract of inheritance, it is often useful to agree a waiver of the compulsory portion and to give the biological children a small part of the inheritance as “compensation”.

Stepchildren in inheritance tax law

Inheritance tax law does not take account of this unequal treatment between biological children and stepchildren. If a stepchild inherits from his or her stepfather or stepmother as a testamentary heir, he or she is treated in the same way as a biological child under the Inheritance Tax Act (ErbStG). According to § 15 (1) ErbStG, stepchildren are considered to be tax-privileged persons in tax class I. In terms of inheritance tax, stepchildren thus have a tax allowance of €400,000 (and not €20,000 for non-relatives).


Stepchildren are not equal to biological children under inheritance law, but only under inheritance tax law. In patchwork families you should therefore decide early on how the inheritance is to be structured.

We will be happy to advise you on inheritance and inheritance tax law matching your family constellation.


Katharina Kutter

As an attorney for family and inheritance law and have specialised in advising companies and high net worth individuals in the areas of asset succession, asset division, tax law and family law retirement planning – with a particular focus on cross-border matters. 

Share this article

Legal advice needed?

Schedule a first meeting!

We are happy to be of service and advise you online or in person at our offices in Constance and Zurich.

Also worth knowing

More legal tips

Termin vereinbaren

Buchungstool lädt nicht? Klicken Sie hier.

Book an appointment

Booking tool not loading? Click here .