Any experienced probate litigation lawyer in South Florida is familiar with the stereotypical “evil stepmother” trope. It’s not necessarily that there may not be truth to it in some families, but it more often than not really comes down to the fact that in so many probate, estate and trust cases, the interests of the surviving spouse (more likely to be the stepmother) so often conflict with those of adult stepchildren. It’s fair to say that a significant portion – bordering on half – of contested wills, trust contests, life estate challenges, elder financial abuse allegations, deed revocations – involve some type of conflict between adult stepchildren and stepmothers.
This is certainly not to say that stepmothers are “evil” in all or even most of these scenarios. What it does highlight is the fact that so many conflicts in matters of estate involve this dynamic and it’s indicative of the fact that an increasing number of families are blended and this inevitably can create long-simmering tension that can spill over into disputes over estate property, beneficiary rights to a trust or an inheritance.
The Pew Research Center reported just a couple years ago that in 1960, 73 percent of children were living in two-parent family households. By 2014, that figure dropped to 46 percent. The number of single-parent households rose from 9 percent to 26 percent during that time. Sixteen percent of children live in so-called “blended families,” with a stepparent, step-sibling or half-sibling. And of course, these figures reflect family structures in childhood; those single parents often go on to get married as the children get older or reach adulthood. There is also an increasing trend toward cohabitation among elderly paramours, which might further complicate matters legally. Continue reading