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Are stepmothers more likely to enter probate litigation?

When a loved one dies, those left behind often encounter legal problems regarding estate administration and probate issues. Many disputes that lead to probate litigation involve stepmothers and their stepchildren. While factual assertions cannot be based on stereotypes or generalizations, there does appear to be data to suggest higher rates of probate litigation in stepfamily situations.

Many such problems include issues of trust, beneficiary rights or inheritance. Women tend to live longer than men in the United States. This may be one way to explain why more stepmothers than stepfathers collide with their stepchildren when it comes time to administer their loved ones’ estates.

While there are currently approximately 2.9 million widowed men in the United States, there are an astounding 11.2 million widowed women. It is logical to assume that many of the women who are widows are also stepmothers. When stepmothers and stepchildren disagree in their interpretations of inheritance or beneficiary terminology in an estate plan, the court’s intervention may be necessary to resolve the problem.

Sometimes, probate litigation results when children claim their now-deceased parent verbally promised them a certain amount of business shares or some other substantial asset as an inheritance. If the stepparent involved has a different recollection or an existing estate plan is worded in a way that suggests otherwise, a stressful situation may erupt. Most estate plan and probate problems can be resolved through thorough review of available documents, and even when no estate plan was executed — although the latter may require a lengthy intestate process. An experienced attorney can be of assistance in either situation.

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

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