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

Aging Parent, Stepmother, Adult Children, Inheritance 

Dear Susan,
We have 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?

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This situation is, unfortunately, so common when “mean”–or whatever you want to call them– step-mothers are involved.  And it’s never easy.  It also sounds like 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, in October 2009 when Brooke Astor’s estate was in the news—it could have provided a springboard for the conversation (as it did for my post about wills and special attention to remarriages Note update of Astor news on 2/23/10

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, it makes sense for an underlying theme in the conversation to be respect for him and for his decisions. Whoever speaks 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.


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 is a senior advisor to this blog and advised for the “Astors and Us” post read the above and added the following: “One possible solution 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.”
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Good luck, Daughter.  Susan

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