Will my stepmother's children claim my father's estate?

12 answers | Last updated: Aug 15, 2016
Traceyru asked...

My fathers will says I was second in line to his estate and all property next to my stepmother, she has now just passed away, do I have any rights or can she just overturn the will so her children receive everything? what can I do?

Expert Answers

Judy and Fred co-mediate family property and financial conflicts, and each work individually as mediators as well. Judy Barber, a mediator and family business consultant, assists clients in resolving overlapping family and money conflicts so they are better able to make sound estate planning decisions. Frederick Hertz is an attorney and mediator who specializes in resolving co-ownership matters involving families, siblings, spouses, cohabitants and domestic partners.

Your question about estate claims depends entirely on the precise wording of your dad's will - as your use of term "second in line" in your question is a bit ambiguous. If his will stated that everything goes to your stepmother and you were only to inherit something if she pre-deceased him, then being "second in line" doesn't really mean anything if she survived him. If this is the way it was written (and I suspect that is indeed what was said), then unfortunately you do not have any legal claim on any of his assets. Once she inherited them she was free to give them to anyone she wanted to. On the other hand, if your dad had signed a trust document that stated that his assets would go to your stepmother but only for her use during her lifetime, and then pass to you upon her death, you would indeed have a valid claim to the remaining assets.

In other words, unless your dad set up a trust that restricted your stepmother's actions she actually isn't "overturning" anything - she inherited the assets from your dad and once that happened she was the sole owner of the assets.

If this is the case, then most likely there isn't anything you can do legally. Of course, this result probably feels incredibly unfair, and may be very hurtful to you. It also may be contrary to what your father really wanted to have happen - as he may have simply assumed that his assets would be shared with his kids. If he worked with a lawyer in preparing his will or trust it might be helpful to try to talk with that lawyer, though he or she may not be comfortable talking with you. In the end, this result may change the way you feel about your relationship with your father.

The one strategy you might consider is talking to your stepmother's children, so that you can explain to them how upsetting this is to you. They might be willing to consider some kind of compromise sharing of the assets, and hopefully they would understand the feelings behind your reaction. Generally we think it's better if you be clear that this is not a legal challenge, but rather, something coming from the heart. If you don't think they will be open to talking with you, then you might want to recruit another family member or mutual friend to help you open up the discussion. If this is not a viable approach, then perhaps you can talk with someone who was in touch with your father when he wrote up his estate documents, in an effort to better understand why he did what he did.

One final point: if you truly believe that this is not what your father intended to do, you would need to retain a lawyer who could file a claim against the estate, and in that context you could question the lawyer who drafted the will or trust. If your did wrote up the documents on his own, without a lawyer's help, then this option probably won't get you very far either.

Community Answers

Disinherited stepson answered...

I was in exactly the same situation. My late father William and my late stepmother Dorothy prepared mirror Wills whereby they left their respective estates initially to the surviving spouse and then to myself and my stepbrother Michael Cosgrove in equal shares. My father died first and his estate passed to my stepmother. My stepmother subsequently prepared a new Will and left everything to her own family. As a result I lost my family inheritance which I understand to be in the region of £150,000. I tried writing to her family explaining that this was against my late fathers wishes but despite numerous attempts Mr & Mrs Cosgrove just ignored all my correspondence. I did seek legal advice but the view was that legally she could betray my late father's wishes by preparing a new Will in favour of her own family. My late father would have been absolutely devestated if he had known that his only son and grandaughter had been completely disinherited.

Without doubt this has been the hardest thing I have had to deal with and it is just so wrong and the law needs changing.

Tennisdude answered...

Exactly the same here. My dad had a brain tumor in November 2005. Before the first surgery I wrote his will out exactly how he wanted it and a notary notorized the document that very day in the hospital bedroom.

Unfortunately he was married to a horrid Columbian woman who I never trusted. The day after he came home from the hospital after the first surgery she took him to an attorney and was made Power of Attorney over his estate. My dad lived over 2 years after that and all she concentrated on was moving the money to a Columbian account. Instead of my sister and I intheriting $500K each which is what we were promised, we got $24K each and that horrid woman told us that was all that was left. Now last year she quick deeded the house to herself and we don't get a part of that either. In the will it stated that is she died (I throw a party!) my sister and I would split the house. If she lived (UGH!) and sold the house, she would get half and my sister and I would get a quarter.

Don't ever trust a late marriage. They are only after the money. I actually found a blog online where a woman was concerned for her dad because he was talking to this woman (that horrid Columbian) and she was afraid that the horrid Columbian was after his money. It had her name, my dad's name in the blog, my dad's address and phone number.

This whole situation is so upsetting. I hope she rots in hell.

Ande j. answered...

My sister and I are going through virtually the same thing. Stepmother will change will and give her kids, ( which dad didn't raise or even particularly like,) all of his estate, our inheritance. She sure had him fooled. My sis and I discovered that her daughter had been plotting for quite a long time and researching Fla. Law so that they would be able to make sure my father's only 2 kids and granddaughter would get nothing. He was the one that made the money and his wishes were well known by all but she saw to it that we didn't even know when his memorial service was held. This was all after a year of us taking care of him, camping out at hospitals and Never seeing any of her kids,,not once! We loved him dearly but all we have is the knowing that you can't be that evil and not pay for it somehow!

A fellow caregiver answered...

My father passed away before my step-mother. Two adult children on each side. Step mother then left entire estate to her children. Still feels very strange to realize your father cared so little about his own children and grandchildren. Probably will sting for the rest of my life.

A fellow caregiver answered...

It depends if no will and state. IF no will and father dies first ,his half would be his kids estate and they would have to wait until step mom died then her half of the house would be her kids.

Angryangry answered...

Your father's will is no longer valid, as the monies have transferred. She is free to do as she wishes. My dad made the same dumb mistake, leaving everything to my stepmother, under the foolish belief that she would treat his children and his did hers (my former stepbrother). Soon as Dad died she began spending the money and made a gross payment to my stepbrother so that he could take a major upgrade in his living. Needless to say, life moves on, but nothing with completely dull that sting of being second to my former stepmother.

Timex309 answered...

As I read these stories they all say pretty much the same. Dads wishes that were discussed many times over clear in intent as he got closer to the end of life were in the end just discussions. And his wishes were soon forgot as he was pronounced dead . In my case I had a strong enough relation with my extended family that had I been told the truth before he died ( much of which was to good to be true) it could have saved the mistrust, and the lingering feeling of being less than or not worthy of the truth. Much like my parents unresolved divorce that effected my life for the worse this to had the same effect . I trusted, believed in people's word , stood against those who question my beliefs . And from that point I knew where I stood in the eyes of my extended family. Fair or unfair it depended on who you talked to. I after waisting time , money on stupid lawyers the issue changed to one of deceit. This effected my thoughts and much of my behavior. My suggestion to those who can relate to this is . Go on with your life. It will never be right with your deceased family member or yourself. Learn to forgive. That will come when your ready. The true Positive from all of this truly. It will destroy much of life . Your life that is . It will reak havoc along the way. So again let it go . Live and let live.

A fellow caregiver answered...

I agree with you. Same situation in my family, although our father always treated our step-siblings better than us. At the time of his death his wife acted as if she was left broke and asked the children to pay the balance of his burial. My dad left everything to his wife and her son. Leaving us feeling unloved and less "than." The pain was very very deep and so was the betrail. His wife never filed his estate through the courts - and after my dad came out of the hospital the first time- she had his will revamped. We never saw the second will - they gave us copy of only the first one and said that was it. Come to find three weeks before my dad dies, he buys a house for her son $255k. In Tampa.

And to make matters worsrevery few months - my sister who can't let it go, finds more about what happened to all the money. Truth is, my dad didn't love us as he should have. My dad did exactly what he wanted with the money no matter how much it hurts. Yes, in the end his wife had more influence because she was his caretaker. But honestly, he didn't value us. My sole consolation is hearing my father's regret for not helping me more when he knew he could. He saw me struggle to take care of my children as a single mother for many years - and he chose not to help. In the end- he saw his mistake and he voiced his regret as held his dying hand.

God has more than blessed me. And as for his wife and children who continue to lie and live with the deceit, that is in them. At least I sleep well at night knowing I was a good daughter who honored her unworthy father - not because he deserved it, but because as a Christian I know that God will be pleased with my choices.

A fellow caregiver answered...

Very sad. All I see above is complaints from grown children of no monies, material things passed on to them. What right do you think is it of yours to begin with? I'm a step mother who works very hard full time plus, purchased my home with my husband. Why do you step children believe by default that the estate would be yours? I can tell you my step children have been very rude and mean to myself and my husband. They will not be in the will thus receiving nothing. No, I do not have children of my own either that the estate would go to. I find it very sad that material things are whats really being ranted about above and really not LOVE. Have you children took a good strong look at your history? Did you mistreat or do anything upsetting through the years that would have predicted this outcome? I bet there is more to the story then your willing to admit.

A fellow caregiver answered...

I am in a not un-similar situation but I feel it is slightly worse, my dad left his estate to my step mother who has recently died leaving the majority to her family and my sister!!!!a very small bequest to me! and the solicitor will not explain why I have been treated so unfairly. My sister is laughing and saying that I should not contest this as it will only delay the final pay out. I feel very miserable about it but mainly with my sister's behaviour towards me - which has been very good until now. I just do not understand people. and feel that the relationship with my sister is over and I must get on with my life without her.

Glib answered...

My husband's father started dating a woman TWO MONTHS after his wife and my husband's mother died. This woman and he were married four months later. She was nice to my husband at first, but slowly showed her true colors of trying to push my husband out of his father's life. My husband's father allowed this woman to emotionally abuse my husband, and even encouraged it. After my husband married me, I saw what was going on and put a stop to it, by cutting off all contact with this woman, after calling her out on her actions. She threw a tantrum and got my husband's father to pretty much totally abandon him. Even calls at Christmas and his father's birthday were met with a nasty shout of ; "I'm with my friends!!!" After which he would hang up and not call my poor husband back. She died first, thankfully, and my husband's father DID apologize for his actions. But the woman was so vindictive, and the father so blind, that he allowed her to throw in the garbage all of my husband's childhood photos of his life with his parents before his mother died of cancer. They were ALL he cared about. They were all he had left of his mother and a time when he had a family. They left all his dad's money (she made nothing. Just five dollars per child giving piano lessons, so the money was mostly his dad's earnings) to other people, but really, who cares? Those pictures were beyond ANY monetary value. Men beware who you marry. Place assets in each child's name as a beneficiary. That's what my dad did. He placed my name on what he wanted me to have, and no one else could get it.