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Why are there so many stepmother/stepchildren estate battles?

Relationships between stepparents and their adult stepchildren can be rocky. This can be particularly true if the parent committed adultery with the person who became his or her second spouse. However, when the parent dies, these relationships can get even worse. Too often, people find themselves battling the surviving stepparent for assets and property they believe to be rightfully theirs.

Since women generally outlive men, these battles more often than not involve stepmothers. One attorney says that about half of his firm's estate disputes involve stepchildren and their newly-widowed stepmothers. There are several common factors behind these disputes. Although the genders could easily be reversed, we'll stick with the assumption that the decedent was male.

When a parent dies not long after remarrying and changing his estate plan, his children may believe that the new spouse pressured him to make these changes. People who are suffering from dementia can be particularly susceptible to undue influence by a spouse or others. If the changes were made hurriedly, the children may have grounds for dispute.

Lack of communication between the stepmother and her husband's children may fuel conflict. If she didn't keep the children fully informed of their father's illness and final days or let them be involved in planning his burial and memorial services, anger and suspicion can fester.

If the stepmother has children of her own, the decedents' offspring may be resentful that their father helped them financially while he was alive and left them assets in his will. They often don't discover these things until after their father's death.

People can help prevent these legal conflicts between their children and their second spouse after they are gone by making changes to their estate plan as soon as they remarry with the guidance of an experienced Arizona estate planning attorney and by ensuring that everyone is fully aware of these changes.

Talk to your children about what is important to them before you amend your estate plan. It's necessary to discuss large changes you plan to make to their inheritances. However, stepchildren and stepparents have battled in court over seemingly trivial things like china sets and watches, particularly if they belong to another parent who has already passed away. These things can have great sentimental value.

You may not relish these conversations. However, it's better than having your family mired in a court battle after you're gone.

Source: Forbes, "Stepmothers: The Cause Of So Many Estate Fights," Michael Hackard, Next Avenue, Jan. 23, 2018

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