Can a stepparent leave everything to a stepchild in her will?

Dear Ms. Allison: My stepmom passed away and left everything to me in her will. She has two sisters contesting the will. A lawyer told me that it’s possible I could get nothing cause I’m considered a stranger. Also said the judge would decide who gets what. Is this true? If so what’s the purpose of a will? C.T. from Oklahoma

Dear Carla:

The purpose of a Will is to state legally what you want done with possessions you own in your own name (not jointly with anyone else) after your death.

From the information you gave, it sounds like you may have misunderstood the lawyer or else, that is not the lawyer for you.

Your stepmom took the time to create a Will. Generally, in her Will, she can leave anyone (blood relation, stepchild, stranger) whatever she wants, as long as the Will is properly made. As her stepchild, you most distinctly were not a stranger to her. Still, even if you were, it would not matter to the effectiveness of her Will – if it was properly done.

Unless there is proof the Will is bogus or derived from some compromised circumstances, you have excellent odds of inheriting the entire estate. This is done through the process called probate. However, if the sisters bring litigation (lawsuits) to contest the Will, it can be costly and contentious.

Based on the information provided, your choices are to:

1. Pay lots of money in legal fees and court costs during the contesting of the Will (the lawsuit). You should use a skilled Oklahoma probate lawyer with whom you can communicate well;

or perhaps

2. Invite your stepmom’s sisters to share some of the inheritance through a settlement developed with a neutral mediator. If you are willing to consider a mediated settlement of some sort, engage a mediator well trained in estate matters. A mediator who knows estate law increases the chances of a mutually satisfactory settlement.
I am both a probate and estate lawyer and a certified mediator. If I can help, contact me.

That’s your question, Asked and Answered,

Gale Allison

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