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When stepparents exert undue influence on a last will

Many children of divorce struggle to accept their parents' decision to end the marriage, even many years later. The unresolved emotions from the dissolution of the family often impact the relationship that the children have with their parents' new romantic partners. When a parent begins dating or remarries, those are sure signs that hopes for the family to reunite are futile.

Adult children can usually quell their negative feelings about a divorce or at least keep them to themselves. However, all of that resentment may bubble to the surface when a remarried parent dies. Sometimes, the death of a loved one results in a second shock when the last will reveals that the stepparent has effectively replaced the children as beneficiaries.

The children in the family may have legal options available, depending on the circumstances in their family. In some situations, it may become necessary to challenge the last will or estate plan.

Can you show that a stepparent had undue influence on the changes to the will?

Wanting to challenge a will due to unhappiness with its contents is a common reaction to disappointment or surprise. However, the courts won't validate challenges just because you are displeased. Instead, you need a legal reason to challenge the last will or estate plan.

Common reasons include lack of testamentary capacity due to dementia or age, or undue influence. Undue influence involves an individual other than the testator making decisions about the last will. The final will could be completely different than the legacy the testator always wanted to have. This influence often takes the form of bullying, isolation or emotional manipulation.

A stepparent who serves as caregiver to an ailing parent, for example, could use their position to coerce or manipulate the testator to change their last will. They could also prevent children and other family members from visiting and then intentionally stoke the anger of the testator against the family members by claiming they have abandoned them.

An attorney can help you determine if you have a strong case

Emotions often run high during the administration of estates. People get upset and may behave irrationally. The expectations that some people have may not conform with reality or the law, in some cases. It is always in your best interest to talk with an attorney when you worry about the contents of a last will or estate plan in Ohio.

The attorney can review the situation and let you know if you may have grounds for challenging the will. If you do, the probate courts could choose to handle the allocation of assets themselves, refer to a previous version of the will or otherwise take steps to uphold the original intended legacy of your loved one.

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