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Hi, this is Keith Davidson at Albertson & Davidson. And in this video, I want to discuss step-parents. And I don’t mean to disparage step-parents, there’s a lot of very good step-parent and step-child relationships out there. But, there’s also some bad ones. And a lot of times we’re asked, “Can my step-mom or step-dad, can they change the estate plan after my parent dies?” So, typically, in this scenario, maybe you have a father who married somebody new and that’s your step-mom. And then your father passes away and you always thought you had a good relationship with your step-mom, but after your dad passes, things start to get a little strained and awkward and you start to wonder can she actually change the estate?
In some cases, it might actually get downright hostile and maybe the step-mom actually tells you, “I’m changing the estate and I’m leaving it all to my kids and I’m not going to leave your father’s share to you after all.” And you wonder, can she do that? And the answer is maybe. And that’s a typical lawyer answer, right? But it depends; it depends on what your father did when he planned out his estate. Or, if he didn’t have any planning at all, that could be a real problem.
So the best case scenario would be if your father had created a trust prior to his death, he has the right to leave assets to step-mom and that’s fine. But, typically, what you’d want to see is that he left money to step-mom in a trust. So she can use that money for her care and support during her lifetime, but she can’t change the ultimate distribution of it. Whatever’s leftover after step-mom passes, has to go to you. But that only works if your dad created a trust and if he had a trust created that had those type of terms in it that allowed the step-mom to use the assets but not control them. That required that the assets go to you after death.
If your father didn’t do that, then you probably are not going to be entitled to his share of the estate. And so what happens a lot of times is, either your father leaves everything to the step-mom, in which case she can do whatever she wants after your father dies, and she can cut you out. Or, he just doesn’t plan at all and things just pass to the step-mom because it’s in joint tenancy or she’s the beneficiary on life insurance, or whatever the case may be.
So when these things are not planned out and if the assets actually pass to step-mom after your father passes away, then you’re really in trouble, because the step-mom can do whatever she likes. She becomes the owner of those assets and she can do whatever she wants with them as the owner.
The fact that your father may have had a family home that you grew up in and lived in and has been in the family for decades, the law doesn’t care about that – if your father didn’t plan it out property. And so that’s really the big question.
So anytime somebody approaches us and says, “Can step-mom change the estate after my father passes away?” The first question we’re going to have is, “Well, what did your dad have in place? Did he have a trust? Did he have a will? Did he have something that we can look at to see if you, as a child, have any rights to any of those assets?” And if you were to tell us that no, he didn’t have any of those things, then chances are, you’re out of luck. And that’s a little something about the downfalls of step-parent and step-children relationships when it comes to passing assets.