My father remarried at 60 after both of his sons were grown and out of the house. His new wife seemed nice and was great to him. She took great care of him through a cancer fight that he lost after five years. I am eternally grateful to her for that and have said as much to her.
Months before his passing, she and I got into a huge fight and some nasty things were said. My dad said it was his “worst nightmare.” I later found out that she had a nasty argument and falling out with all of our family, I was just last because I live out of state and am not around much. They lived in Texas and I live in Idaho.
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She accused me of only loving my dad “for his money,” which is not true. I am curious about the estate. They have a nice oil producing property in Texas and the assets my dad worked his whole life to save. I am not trying to take anything from anyone, or get anything that is not intended for me. But how do I know if my stepmom is doing what my dad intended?
I ask particularly because she has shown her children significant favoritism in the past. I am concerned they may get a disproportionate amount of the estate against my father’s wishes.
Matthew in Idaho
Your situation is complicated, but the solution is simple. In theory, that is. You need to follow the paper trail to find out what your father’s wishes were, though unfortunately locating documents can be laborious. Enlist help of other family members.
People often feel powerless and left out when a parent dies, and a stepfather, stepmother or even a sibling who has moved into the family home often end up controlling their deceased relative’s financial affairs. Your stepmother could be purposely putting the family at arm’s length with these fights, or she could be just a volatile personality (or both). But she is not the person you should engage with, not at first.
How do you find out (a) if there is a will and (b) if it’s being followed? Step 1: Ask your stepmother. Step 2: The county in Texas where your father died has jurisdiction over his death. You need to contact the probate court and the court clerk’s office with your father’s name and the date he died to see if there was a will that was filed. Sometimes, this can be done online. The court must then rule whether the will is valid and whether there were two witnesses.
You may also want to contact your father’s family attorney or financial adviser, who should have information on life insurance, deeds of your father’s home (which may or may not have your stepmother’s name on it) and on other retirement accounts. There should be information on his old bank accounts and his former place of work may be able to help. A policy locator service could also be useful for policies made after 1996.
If there is no will, your stepmother would likely stand to inherit all community property, as I explained to this woman in California who was in a similar predicament to you. It does not sound like the house was purchased or renovated during their six-year marriage. If there is no will, your stepmother may only inherit just one-third of all separate property in Texas (this is as much as one-half in other states). Separate property constitutes anything purchased before your father remarried.
Your stepmother’s comments about only caring about money are, I suspect, designed to keep you from asking questions. You (and your other siblings) should do the opposite.