It's difficult to avoid stereotypes when talking about blended families and probate disputes. However, research shows that children do not often bond with their stepparents, and this disconnect becomes even more pronounced after the biological parent dies. It is not unusual for a law firm to see half of its estate disputes arise between children and a stepparent, particularly a stepmother.
While you may think this perpetuates the long-held myth of the wicked stepmother, the fact is that women tend to outlive their husbands, and this often leaves widows battling with their stepchildren for the inheritance. If you are currently embroiled in such a battle, it may help to know you are not alone and there are resources available to help you.
Do I have reason to take action?
Fewer than 20 percent of adults have a close relationship with their stepmothers, according to some researchers. You may be able to live with that if you each go your own way. Perhaps you were able to behave politely to your stepmother when visiting your father, or maybe you stayed away altogether. Now that your parent has passed away, you are facing the difficult task of probate, and the tension between you and your stepmother may be even stronger.
Some common factors that can increase the likelihood of a battle between adult children and their stepmothers include the following:
- Betrayal: If your father's relationship with your stepmother was the reason your parents' marriage broke up, you may have long-held feelings of resentment and mistrust.
- A short marriage: If your father and stepmother were only married a brief time before his death, this may have shortened the time you had to bond with your stepmother, but it may also make suspicious any changes in your father's estate plan.
- Final arrangements: If your stepmother's plans for your father's final resting place differ greatly from what you desire or what you perceived as your father's wishes, latent tension may quickly rise to the surface.
- Your stepmother's children: You may have cause for concern if your father's estate plan favors your stepmother's children over you and your biological siblings.
- Control: Your stepmother may play games such as keeping from you important information about the day and time of the funeral service, the location of the burial site or the possession of the urn with your father's remains.
- Suspicions: You may already have doubts about your stepmother's trustworthiness, especially if family heirlooms or assets disappear, your stepmother isolates your father from you or you suspect she has unduly influenced your father to change his estate plan.
If your father suffered from dementia, you may suspect your stepmother of taking advantage of this to gain control of your inheritance. It may not be easy to prove, but an attorney can assist you in determining if you have cause to dispute the estate plan in Texas probate court.