Stepmom says she gets everything after dad died. Is that right?


Q. My husband‘s father passed away last month. He always represented that he had a will and his paperwork in order. He was remarried in his late 50s. His second wife, who was his wife at the time of his death, mistakenly thinks that she is entitled to everything and that she is the sole beneficiary as the surviving spouse. His stepmother is a shady lady. His father fell at home prior to his death. Then had a total change of mental status and never recovered. She did not want to take him to the hospital, and we had to have a family feud in order to get him medical treatment. He ended up dying. She is not presenting any paperwork or admitting to the will, and she even changed the locks on the home. What should we do and who should we hire for help?
— Unsure

A. We’re sorry to hear about your loss.

It appears you require the guidance of an experienced trust and estate attorney.

Find someone who practices entirely or at least primarily in the area of trust and estate law by looking online or contacting your local bar association, said Catherine Romania, an estate planning attorney with Witman Stadtmauer in Florham Park.

She said an experienced trust and estate attorney will be able to analyze all of the specific facts and provide guidance and a recommendation as to a course of action. For example, he or she can suggest steps to take to locate the will you believe your father-in-law executed, and advise you as to the rights of a spouse who is not named in a will, she said.

If you were to do nothing, where there is no will, a surviving spouse does have priority to be appointed as administrator of a deceased spouse’s estate, she said. Next in line are the decedent’s children, Romania said..

However, if the decedent had children of a prior marriage, the surviving spouse is not entitled to the entire estate in intestacy where there is no will, she said.

“In that case, the surviving spouse is entitled to the first 25% of the intestate estate, but not less than $50,000 nor more than $200,000, plus one-half of the balance of the intestate estate. The decedent’s children are entitled to the balance,” she said.

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This story was originally published on Feb. 21, 2022. presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.