My late mother remarried in 1954. My biological father — the only father my other brothers and sisters have known — died in 2005. I found out recently that my stepfather has a will and left everything to our half-sister. However, our half-sister died six months ago leaving behind a husband. What are your recommendations for when my stepfather dies? I am planning on retaining a lawyer to petition the court to be named executor of his estate.
I saw a bank statement once and he had about $100,000 in the account. I was amazed that he had that much, but I know he has been investing some. The house is probably worth between $50,000 and $75,000. A couple of family members (aunts on my mother’s side) have told me that the Social Security checks my mom received for each of her children until they turned 18 was used to finance their buying the current house.
You have one thing in your favor and it’s something that went against many other people who have written into this column in recent times: Your stepfather is still alive.
And, I trust, he is also well and is not planning to slip this mortal coil anytime soon. Talk to him, and explain how he may know wish to rewrite his will given that his heir is dead. (You may want to put it a little more delicately than that.) You’re more influential and helpful now as a stepdaughter when he is alive than you will be as an executor when he is dead. This is the time to help him get his affairs in order, make plans for what happens to his estate after he’s gone and, yes, make a case for his stepchildren.
Even if you break bread on Thanksgiving and have known each other for most of your lives, you are not considered his child under the eyes of the law.
This is all the more important if your mother brought assets into the marriage and left them to your stepfather in her will. If your mother did not leave a will, then your stepfather is not necessarily in line to inherit 100% of her estate. In California, for instance, your stepfather would inherit all of the deceased spouse’s community property. That’s the wealth they accumulated during their marriage. But you and your siblings would under California law inherit between one-half and one-third of your mother’s separate property.
It is all the more important for stepchildren to make such a case. Stepchildren are not legal heirs. Even if you break bread on Thanksgiving and have known each other for most of your lives, you are not considered his child under the eyes of the law. If your stepfather wants to make sure you and your siblings are taken care of after he’s gone, or even if he wants to leave you something of sentimental value — anything from a diamond ring to an empty jewelry box — he will have to make those provisions in his will. An alternative: Your stepfather could adopt you and your siblings.
You’re not entitled to his estate. But you could give him a gentle reminder that you wouldn’t mind a few bob either.
Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used).
Would you like to sign up to an email alert when a new Moneyist column has been published? If so, click on this link.