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Estate planning may be difficult for blended families

It is not uncommon for stepmothers and stepchildren to become involved in estate disputes. In California and throughout the country, will and trust contests and other matters often involve these parties. Stepmothers tend to be in these types of conflicts partially because of an increased life expectancy. Women who are age 65 today can expect to live to age 86 on average. A man who is 65 today can expect to live to age 84 on average.

It is also worth noting that there are 11.2 million widowed females compared to 2.9 million widowed males. Therefore, these disputes are not necessarily occurring because a stepmother is an evil person. Instead, it represents a demographic imbalance and the tension that can arise when a blended family has to resolve matters related to a deceased person's estate. Furthermore, research shows that stepmothers and their stepchildren don't necessarily have the same worldview to begin with.

About 20 percent of adult stepchildren say that they are close to their stepmothers. It is also rare that the relationship improves as time goes on. In some cases, individuals may feel that stepmothers favor their biological children at their expense. Stepchildren may also feel that stepmothers try to exercise undue influence in estate planning matters in general.

If an individual believes that undue influence may have played a role in the creation of an estate plan, it may be possible to issue a challenge. For instance, an individual may claim that language in a trust was changed while the testator was mentally incapacitated. It may also be possible to argue that alternate copies of a will or trust are the documents that best reflect a deceased person's wishes. An attorney may be helpful in reviewing papers or otherwise assisting in a legal challenge.

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