Providing an objective assessment for the frequency of stepmother-step-children probate and trust battles is elusive – but to ignore it is to live in another world. For us the anecdotal evidence is in. Case by case – Will Contests, Trust Contests, Life Estate challenges, Probate Objections, Deed Revocations or Joint Tenancy quarrels — the interests and paths of stepmothers and stepchildren often collide. In California, these collisions of interests play themselves out in the probate and civil divisions of our state’s Superior Courts.
Anyone living in the real world wouldn’t be surprised by research showing that only about 20% of adult stepchildren feel close to their stepmoms. Moreover, studies show abundant evidence that stepmothers and their stepchildren do not grow closer over time. Step-fathers can also play a role in estate disputes, and we’re not here to give stepmothers a bad rap. Still, facts are facts: widowed females far outnumber widowed males in the United States by a factor of 11.2 million to 2.9 million.
The simple truth is that estates of some fathers leaving a widowed stepmother and stepchildren will become battlegrounds. However small the percentage of such affected estates amidst all cases, battleground estates can shift to hard-fought litigation that drains family fortunes and inflames emotions. The factors involved vary from case to case: a short-term marriage where the new bride’s financial intentions may be suspect; the disappearance of family heirlooms or assets; dementia or Alzheimer’s; and suspicious property transfers through a recently updated will or trust.
If you remember one thing, cooler heads willing to resolve matters early will often save estate money and reduce the emotional and financial injury to all members of the decedent’s family. Thankfully there are still some good attorneys and reasonable clients who can achieve this goal. Meanwhile, those cases that escape early resolution often quickly escalate to probate, estate, trust and property disputes that epitomize the cultural stereotypes surrounding classic battles between stepmothers and their stepchildren.
If you are facing an estate or trust conflict like the ones I’ve just described, you can call us at Hackard Law: 916-313-3030. We have a record of experience and legal excellence in protecting clients and making sure they have a fighting chance for recovery.