Saturday, February 20, 2010

Aging Parents: Will Mean Stepmother Get Dad’s Money?

Aging Parent, Stepmother, Adult Children, Inheritance
(from an edited [to protect privacy] email, responded to individually of course)
Dear Susan,
There are issues regarding inheritance. My sister (who lives in another state) and I don’t know how to approach our 90-year-old father and get around our stepmother, in order to have meaningful conversations and avoid confrontation and any kind of negatives! We have not been successful thus far, and wonder if we need to hire a family attorney to document our issues and help us look out for our interests. Dad is private, accustomed to having things his way, and aging fast. Unfortunately he is married to a mean, difficult woman. Can you give us some help?
* * *
This situation is such a common aging parent situation when “mean” stepmothers are involved; and it’s never easy. It also sounds like the father is a man who doesn’t want to give up control and--if I’m correct--speaking with him would, I think, need to be attempted by whichever child has the best relationship with him--at an unemotional time when they’re alone--obviously.
This kind of conversation, in my counseling experience, never goes well unless the person initiating the conversation can feel comfortable doing so. Easier said than done. If such a conversation is attempted, I think it’s preferable if it can be attached to something NOT emotionally charged. For example, last fall when Brooke Astor’s estate was in the news—it could perhaps have provided a springboard for the conversation (as it did for my October post about wills). Astor news 2/23/10 Note update
If, in this case, the sisters decide one of them will speak with their father and he’s the kind of man who values control, I think it would be important for an underlying theme in the conversation to be respect for him and for his decisions. She should trust her instincts, assuming they have served her well in the past, and if she senses nastiness in the offing she might do well to back off.
Because in my limited experience I know that the law is the law and if the father is of sound mind when the will is drawn up, as far as I know, contesting it only creates nastiness and changes nothing—sadly. But an attorney is the one to speak to about that.
The highly regarded attorney who advised for the October post, read the above and added the following information concerning provisions for an aging parent’s adult children and the stepmother. “One possible solution, he said, “is for the father, in this case, to have attorneys set up a trust for the stepmother during her lifetime, with the remainder going to the father’s adult children upon the stepmother’s death.”
I hope this information will be helpful to many adult children and to their aging parents as well.

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