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Are stepchildren entitled to a surviving spouse's assets?

4 answers | Last updated: Sep 22, 2014
CEllsworth asked...

My stepmother passed away. Her children are asking my father if they receive half of the joint checking account they shared. The money deposited in the account came from his pension and both of their social security payments. Do they have a right to that money and does he receive it as the survivor on the account?


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Denis Clifford answered...

Whether your stepmother's children have any rights in the "joint checking account" depends on matters I am not completely clear about. You state that her children are asking your father See also:
What will happen to my brother's share of inheritance if he cannot be found?
"if they receive half of a joint checking account they shared". I'm uncertain who the "they" are who did the sharing. I think the account was probably shared by your father and his wife, because you refer to him as "the survivor on the account." If that account was a joint tenancy account, your father would receive all money in it as the surviving joint tenant. In that case, her children would have no right to the money in the account.

If the account was not a joint tenancy account, things get murkier. Then who inherits your mother's portion of the account would depend on who she named as beneficiaries of her interest in it, whether by will or other method, such as a pay-on-death bank account. Further, what percentage of the account she owned could be determined by state law. If she and her husband lived in a community property state (such as California), it's likely that each owned 50% of the account. If they lived in a common law state (like New York) each spouse may have owned a different percentage of the account.


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An Hour 4 Me answered...

Fastest way to find out is go to the bank the account was made in and have Dad check on the account particulars,unless he has is original paperwork. The bank will NOT release this information over the phone.Also The beneficiary status of any pension or the like should be with any paperwork that either updated or originated the account. Could it be with his marrige certificate or the like? It is generally best to not say his wife has passed to the bank.You should probably go with him. Simply have Dad tell the bank that he wants to get his "affairs in order" .(since he not getting any younger) The same tactics can be used to find out who the beneficiaries are on any of the policies/pensions she may have had. Social security matters are best done with an in- office appointment,also be sure Dad has ID with him at the bank or any place he has ro go for these matters. It also be essential for beneficiary matters to have a death certificate (official) on hand.


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Thora answered...

It really boils down to her will. What does it say? My mother in-law left everything to her husband, the step-father, except for her trust fund and specific items listed in her will. He died 18 months later leaving everything to his children.