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Blended families often lead to estate disputes

With the high divorce rates, blended family remain very common. In some cases, two people who already have children get married. In other cases, a stepparent marries into a family after divorce, without bringing additional children.

If you grew up in this situation, you know that it can put you and your family through some tough times. Children do not always approve of the new relationship. They still have a strong tie to their other biological parent, and they do not understand their parent's romantic attraction to this "outsider."

As much as this can cause strife while children and both parents live in the home, it also leads to a high amount of estate disputes.

50 percent

Though rates likely differ everywhere, one expert studied the rates he had seen and said that about 50 percent of estate disputes involved stepchildren and stepmothers. He reported issues such as:

  • Contested wills
  • Life-estate challenges
  • Contested trusts
  • Objections over probate
  • Deed revocations
  • Financial abuse of the elderly allegations
  • Joint-tenancy quarrels

He was quick to point out that he was not trying to stereotype stepmothers as the fairy-tale trope of an "evil stepmother." He was not trying to say that blended families are a bad thing or that children and stepparents cannot coexist.

He was simply pointing out that, statistically speaking, a high percentage of disputes would put stepchildren whose biological father passed away against a surviving stepmother.

What about stepfathers?

You may ask the next natural question: Doesn't the same thing happen with stepfathers? Why paint stepmothers in a poor light all on their own?

It absolutely does work both ways. The key is to think about how stepparents may not see eye-to-eye with stepchildren when dividing an estate.

However, this happens more often with stepmothers because women have a longer life expectancy than men -- 84 to 86. Many men also tend to marry younger women. As a result, there are 2.9 million widowed men, but there are 11.2 million widowed women.

Again, this is not to come down too hard on stepmothers, but they realistically do get involved in more estate disputes.

Reasons for the disputes

The reasons vary from case to case. Some children resent seeing part of the estate go to a stepmother, especially if they do not feel close and never have. They do not think of that person as "part of the family." They may also feel that the stepparent used undue influence to alter the will in his or her favor. In some cases, stepchildren simply always resented a stepparent and see the division of the estate as a way to finally act on that resentment.

No matter why a dispute happens, it is very important for all involved to know their legal rights.

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