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Let me start with noting: This article is not a criticism of widowed stepmothers. It is rather an observation - an observation as to our particular Wills and Trusts litigation practice. That said, I've seen that a substantial number of our law firm's actively disputed estate, probate and trust cases involve widowed stepmothers and their stepchildren.
This in part is due to the sheer number of widows in the United States: There are over 11 million widowed females compared to about 3 million widowed males. While some stepmothers and their stepchildren may have deep and valued relationships, there are many that don't. Many stepchildren may think of their stepmother in fairytale stereotypes - like the stepmothers of Cinderella, Snow White, or Hansel and Gretel.
Many stepmothers will reject the fairytale stereotype and look at estate disputing stepchildren as financial interlopers.
It is said that no two persons ever read the same book. Similarly, stepmothers and their stepchildren in disputed estates neither see the same facts nor reach the same conclusions in interpreting the facts.
Whatever the perspective it is without dispute that some percentage of estates managed by a widowed stepmother with stepchildren heirs end up a battleground of hard-fought litigation over inheritance rights. In my experience the more heavily lopsided the stepmother's estate distribution, the more likely is an inheritance battle.
We are estate and trust litigators. We've seen how cooler heads committed to early resolution can save emotional pain and financial expense. At the same time we've seen how intransigence ignites a concerted battle over rights - a battle that we have many times fought for our clients.
The catalyst for stepmother-stepchildren disputes is often emotional distance. Sometimes the differences are so entrenched that is will take another decision maker - a mediator, a judge or a jury to finally settle that which the parties cannot settle by themselves.
When it comes to setting priorities in these types of disputes, our mission is to protect our clients and prevent further harm to them. If this is something that you are facing call us at Hackard Law: 916-313-3031.