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Stepmothers and stepchildren drive many estate fights

Stepmothers have always had a bad image in popular mythology. Snow White certainly had trouble with hers. Hansel and Gretal didn't fare much better.

It turns out, many stepchildren feel like their stepmothers' interests and theirs collide -- especially when it comes to inheritance.

Why are stepmothers involved in so many estate disputes? Here are some possible reasons:

1. A lack of emotional attachment

There's a general lack of emotional attachment between stepmothers and their stepchildren. Only 20 percent of adults feel close to their stepmothers. This can be do to a number of different things:

  • The children are adults when first introduced to the stepmother, which means there isn't a lot of bonding moments between them.
  • The stepmother may have been the father's "other woman" and the stepchildren see her as an intruder in the family.
  • There are territorial issues over the father. Alive or dead, the father can become the middle of a tug-of-war game between the stepmother and the stepchildren. While the father is alive, they contest for his attention and love. When he dies, they may fight over who gets to control his remains and distribute his personal possessions.
  • There's a lack of personal boundaries. Both the stepmother and the stepchildren may not respect personal boundaries. They may both feel "entitled" to personal possessions, sentimental items and valuables after the father's death -- with neither seeing the other's point of view.

2. The longevity of the stepmother

Widows outnumber widowers by about 7 million. Surviving stepmothers may simply stand in the way of the inheritance that the father's children feel they are due.

3. Fears over preferential treatment

Stepchildren may fear that the stepmother will essentially steal whatever their father has put away for them and give it to her own biological children instead. This could be anything from the father's jewelry and cars to the home he shared with the stepmother.

If you have a blended family, don't let your spouse and your children turn your estate into a free-for-all. A dispute over your will could ruin your memory and the legacy you want for both your wife and your children. Consider seeking advice on the best way to prepare your estate so that your wife is cared for, should she outlive you, but your children know that their interests are also protected.

Source: Forbes, "Stepmothers: The Cause Of So Many Estate Fights," Michael Hackard, Jan. 28, 2018

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