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Why is estate conflict common among stepmothers and stepchildren?

It is clearly not the case that all stepmothers are the wicked type that one finds in old children's tales. However, there is at least anecdotal evidence that many probate battles are fought between stepmothers and their adult stepchildren, that is, the children of a man who later re-married and then died.

Based largely on his own observations, one expert estimated that about one-half of all probate litigation is due to some underlying issues between a man's current spouse, or widow, and his children from a previous relationship.

Part of this relates to the fact that women just tend to live longer than men. As such, it is more likely that a man will die leaving behind children and the children's stepmother than vice versa.

In other words, because there are, relatively speaking, a lot of stepmothers trying to work out affairs with stepchildren, there is also more opportunity for conflict between these two groups to erupt following a man's death. To add to this mix, only about 1 in 5 adult children describe their relationship with their stepmother as close, meaning both sides may have less hesitation about doing legal battle with each other.

Although there is only so much one can do about this, one thing that can be done in the process of estate planning is to make sure that all sides will be able to appreciate that the will or trust is fair. If it appears that, for example, the stepmother who has only been married to a man for a short time has managed to get the lion's share of an estate, the children are more likely to object.

Sometimes, though, New Jersey residents will find themselves drawn in to a conflict of this nature. In that case, it may be best to entrust the mater to an experienced probate litigation attorney who can try to find a cost-effective solution to the problem.

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