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‘Death and money bring out the worst in people’: My stepmother wants me to relinquish my rights to my late father’s estate. How do I handle this gracefully?

‘How do I make sure my stepmother is taken care of financially without completely giving up my rights to my dad’s estate?’ Dear Quentin,

My dad and his second wife moved to Texas for their golden years. 

Unfortunately, he died unexpectedly last September. He had been battling a terminal disease. He was immunocompromised, and a double whammy of pneumonia and COVID-19 was just too much. My stepmother said if I claimed a share of their house, I would be responsible for half the utilities, property taxes and general upkeep. 

Here is where it gets complicated: My dad did not have a will. I know I have some right to at least a portion of my father’s personal and marital property. My uncle shared his interpretation of the law with my stepmother, who asked me for my thoughts. I told her to hire a lawyer to make sense of it all, because I just know what I can see online and am not an expert.

Yesterday, she reached out to let me know that she had made a will and that I would get one quarter of her estate, while her three children would get the other three quarters. As she put it, “This is what your dad would have wanted.” She then informed me that her lawyer was sending me a letter that would relinquish my rights to my dad’s estate. 

‘We aren’t close’

I never agreed to sign anything, nor do I even know the full value of my father’s estate. She immediately moved to a new subject, and I wasn’t comfortable pushing the topic without additional research to understand my rights. I don’t like to make waves and I’m generally the type that gives in just to keep the peace. 

How do I make sure my stepmother is taken care of financially without completely giving up my rights to my dad’s estate? She lives on the other side of the country and I honestly will never see her or her children again. We aren’t close and this isn’t the “The Brady Bunch.” We were never a blended family. I told her to talk to a lawyer. 

My stepmother is in her 60s. She could remarry and fall victim to scammers, or even fall under the influence of family members who want to take advantage of her. I am not comfortable signing away my rights and crossing my fingers that everything works out when she passes. This isn’t the first death in my family, and it won’t be the last. 

Death and money bring out the worst in people. Do you have any suggestions on how to handle this gracefully?