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Dec. 19, 2021, 6:48 p.m. EST

‘Am I the evil stepmother?’ I have one son. My husband has 4 kids and says we should split our estate 5 ways. I disagree. What now?

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By Quentin Fottrell

Dear Quentin,

I’ve been married for five years, I have one 25-year-old son from a previous relationship, and my husband has four adult children from his first marriage, ages 22 to 28. We both came into the relationship with different assets, but I’d say equal in value for the most part. My income is approximately $30,000 to $40,000 more per year annually.

My son lost his father years ago, and did not receive anything from his death. In fact, I financially supported my son 100% through most of his school years, and have worked very hard to get to where I am today. My husband is a wonderful, caring and loving man and is kind to my son. I couldn’t ask for more.

My stepsons were mostly grown when we married. One lived with us for a year of high school at which time we continued to pay support to my husband’s ex-wife. I try to be there for his kids, but there is no real bond. Often, there are no replies to phone calls/texts, invites to dinner, family trips etc. The relationship is best described as “my dad’s wife,” which I’m OK with. 

I can’t say it doesn’t hurt; not seeing or speaking to one in over two years, but there’s not much I can do besides being here when needed and sending invites. I’d say my husband spends more time with my son, and has had the opportunity to bond with him more.

Where I’m struggling: My husband believes that we should divide everything equally between the five boys. I’m not OK with that. Perhaps it is because of my son’s age, and what he’s been through. I feel as if I’m taking away from my son to give to boys that I don’t have a relationship with. I believe that our estate should be divided in half, with my half going to my son.

Perhaps I will feel differently down the road, as my son becomes older or after several more years of marriage. Am I the evil stepmother? Was I single for too long, and do I have too singular a focus? I regret not talking about this before we got married, but I believed that this would be the fair and right way to handle things.

Financially, how do couples in similar situations tackle these tough decisions?

Torn Mother and Stepmother

Dear Torn,

Yes, it would have been better to have this conversation earlier, but it’s good that you are talking about it now. And, no, you are not an evil stepmother.

I agree with you that a five ways split is excessive, and a prenup would have helped. If you had met when your children were very young — Brady Bunch-style — then I would understand if you wanted to split your estate five ways, as your husband wishes. By all means, take into account your relationship with your stepchildren, and the length of time you’ve known them.

The relatively short length of time you and your husband have been married, the fact that your children are now young adults, and the quality of your relationships with them naturally play a role in your decision making. You had a long life and career before meeting your husband. There’s absolutely no reason to split the spoils of all that hard work five ways.

Be aware of other restrictions regarding spousal inheritance. As for your home, “tenancy in common” allows you to leave your share of your home to a third party. If you have a “joint tenancy” arrangement, one partner will inherit the other’s share when he/she dies. There may be “right of election” in your state that restricts how much you can disinherit your spouse.

In New York, for instance, the surviving spouse has the option to receive a portion of their spouse’s estate. These laws vary from state to state, and may depend on the length of the marriage, whether you share children from the marriage, the value of your respective estates and probate/non-probate assets, among other factors, according to The Demetri Law Firm .

Consult an estate lawyer as to how much of your estate you can actually leave to your son, keeping in mind all the above. It’s time to start talking about trusts, wills and beneficiaries. There are all sorts of ways you can leave your son money. You may also have bank accounts that were set up before your marriage, and are treated as separate rather than marital property.

And as difficult as your situation feels now, splitting the inheritance in large blended families can be far more complicated than yours.

<STRONG> <EMPHASIS> <STRONG> <EMPHASIS> <STRONG>You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on <INTERNET LOCATION="EXTERNAL" URL="https://twitter.com/Quantanamo">Twitter.</INTERNET></STRONG> </EMPHASIS> </STRONG> </EMPHASIS> </STRONG>

<STRONG>Check out <INTERNET LOCATION="EXTERNAL" URL="https://www.facebook.com/groups/moneyist/">the Moneyist private Facebook</INTERNET></STRONG> <STRONG>group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.</STRONG>

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

More from Quentin Fottrell :

My married sister is helping herself to our parents’ most treasured possessions. How do I stop her from plundering their home?My mom had my grandfather sign a trust leaving millions of dollars to two grandkids, shunning everyone elseMy brother’s soon-to-be ex-wife is embezzling money from their business. How do we find hidden accounts?‘Grandma recently passed away, leaving behind a 7-figure estate. Needless to say, things are getting messy’

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