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What does a stepparent deserve to be left in a will?

jeejep's picture

Hello All,

I'm writing to you from the UK.  I've been with my husband for 16 years, and married for 2.  During all this time, we have never had a will.  I feel so uncomfortable with this, as, even though we're married now, it still leaves me and my stepchildren terribly exposed to all kinds of taxes owed to the government without a Will.  I almost managed to get one done - had the will writer/solicitor over to spend some time figuring out what's best.  As it's my husbands name on the house and has been his home for 25 years, and he has most of the assets, it sort of feels like it's all up to him to decide how he wants things to go.  Having said that, I've helped completely renovate our house and have put £1000's of my own money into it, and will continue to do so.  

As regards the will, the solicitor thought that if my husband should pass first (which he may as he's older than me...terrible to think about!!!)it would be fair if 50% of the house goes immediately to my step kids and I have the remaining 50% to purchase another property for  myself.  I will be allowed up to 5 years to sell the house and move, allowing for the possibility it might not be a sellers market at the time in question.  The idea then being that when I die, my assets will go to my step kids.  This all sounds good to me, and I'm more than happy to pass everything on to the my skids.  However, my husband doesn't like this idea....largely because I think he's been burned not once, but twice, by his two ex-wives, who wanted to get as much £££ as they could from him in their divorces.  So, DH would prefer that I move out as soon as possible and split the proceeds of the house between myself and the kids, who are all now adults.  This would mean a split of everything 4 ways, potentially 6 ways should his younger two children come back into our lives.

I feel nervous about this, as I'm not sure the proceeds of the house will actually be enough for me to buy even a small flat for myself in London, where I live.  I also feel, and this is what I'm not sure about and would like some feedback on, that I'm being lumped in with the kids, as a sort of dependent, as it were (I do have my own career and although I don't make as much money as my husband, I do bring in an average UK salary per year).  I feel in my heart that I deserve more consideration, or perhaps status, when it comes to being able to stay in (for a short while - I would def want to sell as soon as I was able) and benefit from my home, which I've worked so hard on.  But...these are not my kids.  And I don't have kids of my own.  So maybe I'm being unreasonable to expect my husband to put more consideration into his wife than his kids?  I don't want to have what is rightfully theirs - I love them and want them to have good and prosperous lives -  I just want to make sure that the older woman I am to become is going to be taken care of. I've invested a great deal of myself into this family and this man...and it just doesn't feel right.  

So - it's the age old question:  Am I being unreasonable?  Is my husband being insensitive?

Any thoughts appreciated!


Gimlet's picture

My DH and I leave everything to each other.  We both have life insurance policies for our respective kids, and they will inherit when the second spouse dies.

We've both put a lot into to our lives and our home and I would never dream of pulling the rug out from under him while he is grieving and vice versa. 

Our home is our home, not anyone else's.  

I did not raise my daughter to expect or depend on an inheritance.  I would not be happy if my husband wanted to punish me for his previous poor choices in a spouse.

STaround's picture

if he has no will.  I would get legal advice on what you entitled to without a will, and is a widow given any minimum rights even if the will says otherwise. 

Petronella's picture

Your husband is wrong. I'd be very upset that he wants you turfed out of YOUR home. Speak to a lawyer/solicitor without your husband present. Make sure to protect yourself because he obviously doesn't care what happens to you after he's gone and he obviously doesn't value all the contributions you have made to the home and your lives together.

hereiam's picture

So, if your husband dies, you should immediately vacate your home? He's okay with you being homeless? Hmm.

 I also feel, and this is what I'm not sure about and would like some feedback on, that I'm being lumped in with the kids, as a sort of dependent, as it were

That's what is sounds like to me, too, and I don't think it's right. I don't have kids, but if I did, they wouldn't be getting the house, or any proceeds from it's sale, until after BOTH, DH and I die.

Hastings's picture

Yeah. Now, in my family of origin, admittedly there are no second marriages, steps, whatever. But the way all my grandparents and parents have their wills set up, everything goes to the surviving spouse. After that spouse dies, it's divided between the kids and grandkids.

That's the way DH and I have our trust set up (most of our assets are in a trust but we have wills for power of attorney, family heirlooms, etc.). SS inherits only after we're both gone. My family heirlooms and stuff will go to my sisters or their kids.

tog redux's picture

In our will, we each leave everything to each other; anything left goes partially to SS and partially to my nieces and nephew. 

That's the standard marital will, why should it be different because there are stepkids? Maybe he could figure out some other way to leave them something in trust and not boot you out of your house. 

This is always a raging debate on here, between the few who think it's fine to leave everything to the kids and the majority who think a spouse should be cared for after the death of the other spouse - BEFORE the kids get anything. 

The only caveat I have is if the second marriage is very late in life and much of the assets were built up in the first, long-term marriage. Then I think the kids should get more of what was left by their other parent.  I don't know how old your skids are. 

Hastings's picture


There was a situation in my home town where a widow and widower married late in life. Neither one updated their wills, which meant their wills were invalid by marriage and when the wife died suddenly, she died intestate. That meant that the generations-old family farm went to her husband and then to his kids. Not a pleasant situation, let me tell you.

When my grandmother was considering remarrying a few years ago, she was going to talk to a lawyer first to see what she needed to do to ensure everything would go to her children and grandchildren. My dad is not a mercenary at ALL, but he told her, "Look, I don't need the money but I want to make sure everything my dad worked hard for goes to the people he loved and not to someone he never met."

tog redux's picture

Yeah - my mother is 85 and if she remarried now, I'd expect the will to reflect her leaving enough to her new spouse to care for him, but a lot for all of us, since it was accumulated during my parents' 61 year marriage.  Thankfully she doesn't want to ever get married. 

But if the first marriage was brief without a lot of assets, then that is not an issue. And my DH trusts me to not change the will after he dies to cut SS out. 

Petronella's picture

But it wasn't your dad's dad's money anymore. It was your grandmother's money to do with as she wished. Unless your grandma was cognitively impaired (in which case she shouldn't have been considering marriage at all), I think your dad was out of line in telling her what to do with HER money.  

I think people can carry this "keep it in the family" mentality too far. 

Hastings's picture

Oh, he wasn't telling her what to do. She was very concerned about the money and wanting it to go to her children and grandchildren. After she made it clear what her decision was, he told her how he felt.

ESMOD's picture

me too.  My dad is up in years and has decided he wants to actually start moving some money to my brother and I now (mom is gone).. So he is using annual gifts to do this.  He is a bit frustrated by the annual cap and I did say that it would be possible to double up by giving to spouses as well.. but he is concerned about my brother's spouse since they have had some issues.  I actually have now suggested he start putting some money in a 529 for my nephew because there is always the risk that my brother could pass before his wife.. she could remarry and then my nephew could end up with nothing... I have no kids and my DH isn't worried about my DH but he does have that concern.. he doesn't want all that my mom and he worked for to end up shifted off to some future spouse of an EX.

futurobrillante99's picture

In the USA, it's pretty standard for the surviving spouse to remain in the marital home for a certain number of years - typically up to 20, depending on age if they are not on the deed for the home.

It would be considerate if, after 16 years together, assuming you've been contributing all those years, to have a greater stake in his estate than a wife of only 2 years, but since these are his assets, he has the final say.

If he loves you, he should care about your future prospects. If you're in a good financial position to support yourself, then he may not feel you need as much from his estate. However, I think it's pretty cold to expect you to move out of the home you've share right away to sell it and split the proceeds 4 ways.

Living in London is hella expensive. I have no idea how old you are, but if you're close to retirement, I would look for something in the cheaper suburbs.

I really think you should go for him agreeing to let you live in your home without interference (his children not coming in and ransacking your home unless your spouse leaves certain things to them in his will) for a number of years while you're still working.

ESMOD's picture

I'm sure that one of his concerns might be that you would remarry and then you might decide to not leave things to your skids after he passes. 

Perhaps another way of going at this would be to allow you the right to live in the home as long as you need to and then the kids get control of it at that point in time?

If he wants his kids to get "something" sooner.. perhaps you need to take a good hard look at what you have invested into the home.. and what appreciation has happened during your marriage?... 

It sounds like the solicitor was being pretty fair.. but it does sound like your dH has concerns you might not honor his desire to pass things to his kids?

jeejep's picture

Yes, I think that's exactly what his concerns are, and it hurts, as it really couldn't be further from the truth.  However, I do often feel that being not just a second, but THIRD wife, I am often seen via the perspective of someone who's been burned by painful divorces.  He's dared to love and marry again, but his guard is very much up! I'm sad about this, because I'm so very different from he previous wives.  I feel this a lot, not just when it comes to  money, but many things.  Anway, i appreciate your response.  It's so good to get all of this feedback!

Petronella's picture

OP, even if your husband owned the home before marrying you, you are probably entitled to a share of its current value. You've been married for 16 years - any appreciation in the house's value in those 16 years, would be considered marital property here. 

Speak to a solicitor as soon as possible.

jeejep's picture

Yes, but my name isn't associated in any way with our house, unfortunatley.


Petronella's picture

Well it might be different in the UK, but in Canada where I am, my husband would absolutely have some claim to the increased value of our home. Even though it's entirely in my name and I owned it prior to meeting him. 

Don't sell yourself short. You are a WIFE and you have rights.

Rags's picture

Which is generally also the case in the US.  Market equity growth in a home owned prior to marriage is a marital asset.

Barring a prenup.

As I understand it.

strugglingSM's picture

That is way out of line in my view...adults should have to take care of themselves. Spouses should take care of one another. Adult children should not need parents to provide for them if they can provide for themselves. 

Assuming that children have a financial stake in a home that was purchased by couple, when one person in that couple continues to be alive is wrong, in my opinion. If he wanted to stipulate that a certain amount of the proceeds of the sale after your death go to his children, then fine, but to say you have to move out if he dies first, so his kids can have half of the house...if my husband even nodded his head when someone suggested that, I would put our home on the market and file for divorce. 

Since you are married to your husband, you and he have essentially agreed to provide for one another for life. Once children are adults, parents are not under any obligation to provide for them. I would be most concerned over the fact that your DH feels as if his obligation to his kids is the same as his obligation to you. That puts you and the kids on an equal playing field, which is not the way things should be. Maybe it's easier for me to feel this way, since my DH had nothing when I met him and any "assets" he has now are the result of my managing our finances and making smart moves on our behalf. However, your husband should desire that you are provided for upon his death, considering that you may be a pensioner at that time and have limited other options to provide for yourself. He assumes 50% of your living costs or needs will disappear when he dies and I don't think that's true. 


jeejep's picture

Thanks for your response

You've really affrimed what I'm feeling in my heart, that it's just not right that I am placed on an equal playing field as my SKids.  I feel quite hurt by his assertion that this is the right thing to to.  My Skids have already reached lump sums from us, and are well into their adulthood with their own partners, homes, etc.  So...yeah...I feel a bit crap about it all, not to mentioned undervalued.



Petronella's picture

...if my husband even nodded his head when someone suggested that, I would sell put our home on the market and file for divorce. 

I think you're on to something here. At this point, the OP might be better off divorcing her husband before he dies. The law is very clear on what she'd be entitled to in that instance, and his kids would have no rights to her share of the marital assets.

jeejep's picture

Ha ha!  Gosh, what a point.  If I were only money minded, that would be a great suggestion!  I do actually love my DH and my SKIDS, so divorce in order to secure my future doesn't feel like the right approach...but point taken!  Certainly puts things into perspecitive...

Petronella's picture

That's nice that you love your husband. He is not behaving in a loving manner toward you. 

Rags's picture

No, you are not being unreasonable. Your DH on the other hand, is being a dick.

I am not sure how UK law deals with this kind of thing but in the US if DH were to die intestate and there is no prenup you would likely get it all as the surviving spouse. His kids could of course contest that but.... as the spouse you would for the most part trump his kids.  A lawyer could give you far better input than I can though.

I would do as STaround recommended above.  Engage a solicitor to outline what the likely outcome would be if DH predeceases you without a Will.   Have everything ready to immediately protect your interests in the event DH kicks the bucket before you do.

You can leave your Skids everything in equal shares upon your demise, if you make a Will, but for damned sure you should not tolerate being just what for financial purposes would be just another of DH's spawn.  I would do whatever you can to insure that you at least get half of any estate out right upon DH's demise and lock up the principal of the rest so that you benefit from the market growth of the Skid's half as retirement income.

Adult kids can wait their turn until you pass.  Then let the vultures fight over whatever may be left.

In my legal layman;s opinion of course.

In our case. our joint Will names each other the sole heir and beneficiary of our collective estate.  If we co-decease or if the survivor does not revise the Will it all goes into trust for SS-27 until he either completes a Bachelor's degree from an accredited institution or turns 40 which ever is first.   It all goes to him regardless.  He just gets it earlier if he he follows our from beyond the grave expectations of him. I have no BKs so SS is my heir if DW predeceases me.

If she does go before me and I remarry, I would change my Will to leave any growth in my Estate from our wedding date forward to my next DW and would put the rest into a trust that my next DW could live off of the proceeds from until her demise at which point the principal would go to my son (SS-27, who I adopted at his request when he was 22).

This is how I would deal with providing for a next spouse and protect the Estate that his mom and I have built together for the benefit our son.  I would not allow for any crap between my son and my widow.  It would be tightly locked up in order to prevent any mucking about by either my son or my widow as much as I could provide for the killer legal counsel.

I have a very close friend, she and I and her elder brother were pretty much raised together and if I have a sister, it is her. Her mom passed when she was in her mid 20s.  Her dad ended up remarrying.  He married her brother's MIL.  His second wife had 6 kids with her first husband.  She insisted that his estate would go to all of their kids equally upon their demise.  Then ended up being married for around 30 years.  Her dad just passed in September.  She got screwed.  Her brother and his wife get 1/4 of the estate and she and her SIL's biosibs each get 1/8.  I would not tolerate that kind of crap if I was her dad.  I would have told the next wife to take a hike with that crap.  Even worse, the beautiful jewelry that was her mother's that IMHO should have gone to her and her brother when their mom died ended up on the next wife.  Custom jewelry made in Saudi Arabia for their mom. Much of it had her name on in Arabic. Yet SM had it draped all over her for 30 years.  I was pissed for my friend. Her SM did nothing to build on the estate that her BM and dad built over the years.  He was retired a few years before he remarried.  She had to fight with her father in order to refinance the loan he made her for the purchase of her home.  It is a home that her mom and dad bought for her to live in while she was college.  When her dad remarried her SM would harp on the home they owned in Fla, etc, etc, etc....  My friend felt threatened so she told her dad she wanted to buy the house rather than have he and her SM on the deed.   He agreed and set a price and owner financed her purchase.  Her SM continued to play the "our Fla house" crap.  I advised her to refinance through a mortgage company and end the drama by getting her dad and SM out of the picture on her home completely.  She did it.  It took a while but the drama faded a bit once she ended SM's crap regarding her home.  Interestingly when they married SM separated the home she and her deceased first husband had purchased and raised their 6 children in from the "equal estate distribution" between all 8 kids. Only her 6 shared that asset upon the SM's demise.  Yet.... the estate that my friends mom and dad established prior to her mom's death was diluted by the 6 step sibs.  One who is my friends SIL.

It just torqued my butt that her dad lost his balls upon the demise of his wife who was an amazing woman.  She was my mom's BFF.  I still have a bad taste in my mouth over it and it does not effect me in the least other than the injustice of it for my friend.  Her brother, also a very close friend, has never said a word about it. Not even when I asked. He just got a pained look on his face when I broached the topic of his sister's heart break over it all.  He made no comment when I asked. So, I never brought it up with him again. His sister still calls me to discuss my opinion of her weird extended blended family issues. Rarely but she does bring it up.  

IMHO it is the responsibility of the parent that remarries to both protect their estate for the children they and their deceased spouse had together and treat a subsequent spouse equitably.  IMHO it is one those smell test things. You know a screwy situation when you smell it.

Just my thoughts of course.

Take care of you.

jeejep's picture

Thanks Rags!

I appreciate your reponse and that story about your friend's family is a sorry tale.  I guess it's that sort of thing that my husband worries about.  However, our marriage has lasted much longer than his with his preivous two wives.  But I get how badly wrong things can go without specifics laid down.  Thanks for suggesting I'm not being unreasonable and that my husband is being a "dick" as you call it.  That made me laugh, which is good, becuase I could use a bit of a laugh at the moment!

GoingWicked's picture

Why would you continue putting thousands of pounds into a home you don't expect to be yours?  It's foolish.  What you need is a financial advisor to draw up how much you should be saving or spending so if you surrvive your DH, you have the means to be independent and you don't have to rely on the graciousness of your step kids.  

jeejep's picture

Well...I guess I never expected this to be the case, and it feels good to me to contribute.  But you're quite right...perhaps I'm being naive and need to stop investing in a home that's essentially going to go to someone else...

Petronella's picture

...perhaps I'm being naive and need to stop investing in a home that's essentially going to go to someone else...


Swim_Mom's picture

I think that 1) your DH should put you on the title of the house 2) you should have the right to remain in the home as long as you wish and 3) if you decide that you're ok with leaving things to the step kids, he should be happy enough with that. Unfortunately I agree you are being shoved into the mix with the kids. 

We spent about 18 months on our trusts and wills (it is very helpful that my Dad happens to be an estate planning attorney!). Basically we each have a trust which owns all of our respective assets. We keep all of our finances separate, and I own 78% of the equity in our home/DH has 22% based on what we've put in - our home deed resides in both trusts aligned with that split. In our wills, we leave 40% of our trusts to each other and 60% to be split among our respective kids - my 3 each get 20%; his 4 get 15%. If I predecease him, the 40% he inherits from me cannot eventually go to his kids; it reverts to mine upon his death. We felt that we need to balance taking care of each other, while acknowledging that we want to leave assets to our (own) kids. Now if one of us had substantially more than the other, we may have thought about this differently, but we pretty easily agreed on this.

My point is - this requires a lot of thought and planning and at least for tax reasons you NEED to take care of this asap. In my opinion, DH should not be treating you as another child and it is a bit disturbing that 1) he'd allow you to be essentially kicked out of your home and 2) that he would not want you to be taken care of in your standard of living. Not to mention - why do you not get credit (literally, from an equity perspective) for capital improvements into *his* home? This is problematic.

jeejep's picture

Really great suggestions Swim-Mom.  Thanks for sharing what you and your DH did as regards wills.  Gives me some good ideas.  Time to get my name on the house deeds and have a really serious converstaion with my husband.  

BethAnne's picture

It is your husband’s money and assests he can do what he wants. 

Personally I would rather everything is sorted out and set straight immediately after my husband’s death rather than waiting years to divide up the house and then being expected to leave money to the step kids when I die. (If the money is not legally tied somehow up you can change your will after his death to do whatever you want with the money.)  If everything is sorted straight away then I would not owe the step kids anything or have them come ask me for “their share” early or anything like that. They will argue that you are not selling the house at the right time or that you are not asking selling the house for enough money or that you are holding up the sale by asking for too that your husband sets out exactly what he wants clearly and that everything is sorted ASAP so that you can move on with your life. 

Having said that, it is unusual that your husband wants to treat you as a dependent rather than a spouse. Most of the time I think it is usual to allow a spouse to live in a house until death or re-marriage and then the house sale can go to the step kids. 

I might set out for him monetarily what it would all mean for you if he died tomorrow. Perhaps he hasn’t really realized how little you would get? 

Either way, this is your wake up call to stop investing in the house and your relationship money-wise and start investing in your own future. You need to save up a good emergency fund for yourself and build up your retirement plan.  Don’t forget to leave 5/6ths of your money to your favorite relative or charity in your will should you die before your husband. You don’t owe his kids any money. 

Mandy45's picture

I'd make sure I got the house in agreement that in the event of your death it would go to skids.  Maybe keep individual finances separate so your not homeless and broke in the event of anything happening to him. There will be a fight so I would cover myself very carefully. 

DHsfamilyfromhell's picture

You should have titled that what does a wife deserve to be left in the will. has some useful advice.

i would get legal advice ASAP One of your questions to the solicitor might want to be ‘what if he has made a will and not showed it to me.’

people that have accumulated money usually have a will. Most couples are transparent about this and show each other the documents or whatever. 

jeejep's picture

Thanks for that link DHsfamilyfromhell!  I'll have a look. You're right about how I should have titled my post!

strugglingSM's picture

When it comes to planning wills, the wife should be considered the "wife" and not the "stepparent" or another dependent. 

ldvilen's picture

Precisely.  No one would ever think of telling an initially married husband and wife, "It's all of the husband's money, so he can do what he wants with it."  No one should ever think of telling any married husband and wife such, whether the wife bears the second title of SM or not.  Wife = wife and not sloppy seconds or thirds or ____.  

Rags's picture

A Steparent may not warrant mention or inheritance in a Will, a Skid's Will that is ... but a Spouse certainly does warrant mention in the Will of their own Spouse.

My thoughts are that an X gets nothing beyond what is stipulated in a Divorce decree.  In the case of two people that create a child together out of wedlock, when that relationship ends they go their own way taking with them what is theirs.  CS not withstanding.

In the case where one of the new spouses had former relationship children what makes general sense to me is for the Skids to  be given at least a significant part of the estate of their BioParent based on the value of that estate at the point where the BP and the SP marry.   Any estate growth from that point forward goes to the surviving spouse with the Will providing for the surviving spouse adequately if rthe estate growth is inadequate to support the surving SParent spouse.

Parents have no duty to support adult children or leave them anything.  The duty to a widowed spouse trumps any duty to support adult children.

Just my thoughts of course.




juststressedbeyondbelief's picture

What? No. Just because it's a second marriage, it doesn't mean you deserve to be treated like a second wife.

If I die, all assets are transferred to my wife, then my wife can decide.

If she dies, all of her assets are transferred to me, then I decide.

Almost like it's a real marriage.