Conflicts between stepmothers and biological children over estate and trust assets have become a familiar feature of litigation in California superior courts. Only a certain proportion of these disputes make it to the legal arena, but they’re part of a continuing trend that’s worth noticing.
There’s plenty of reasons why you’ll keep hearing about estate fights between stepmothers and biological children, whether in the news or in your own community. To start with, research shows that one in six children in the United States is in a blended family situation. Biological children from a first marriage expect an eventual inheritance, the normal transfer of wealth from one generation to the next – almost a sense of entitlement. When the biological father and the stepmother form a second marriage, this fractures original inheritance. Personal friction, resentment and other disagreements will often lead up to a trust lawsuit being filed in court.
Along with these basic realities, there are other methods to help determine the likelihood of a stepmother estate dispute. Take a look at the following factors, as listed in my new upcoming book Alzheimer’s, Widowed Stepmothers & Estate Crimes:
First, Brevity of marriage: The briefer the marriage between the biological father and the stepmother, the more likely it is that the biological children will be unwilling to accept changes to an estate or trust made in the stepmother’s favor.
Second, Large separate property assets. When there are large separate property assets with a smaller proportion of community property, the larger separate property assets might seem “up for grabs.”
Third, Incapacity or vulnerability: Estate changes made if the husband lacks capacity or is vulnerable to undue influence will probably raise the suspicion of biological children that wrongdoing is afoot.
Fourth, Isolation. If the stepmother keeps her husband away from his biological children or severely reduces contact, her good faith on a fair and equitable distribution of his estate will come into question.
When these elements come into play, the odds of litigation rise dramatically. If emotions aren’t kept in check, the estate dispute between stepmothers and biological children can veer out of control like a runaway train – permanently destroying family wealth and relationships in the process. To help clients avoid this type disaster, an experienced attorney will assess viable ways to reach a mediated solution, an outcome almost always favorable to costly, seemingly endless litigation.
Hackard Law is committed to protecting beneficiary interests in estate, trust and elder financial abuse litigation across California, including in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Alameda, Santa Clara and San Diego. We take substantial cases where we can hold a wrongdoer accountable. If what we’ve described sounds similar to your own experience, you can call us at 916-313-3030. We’ll be glad to see how we can best help you.