The Moneyist: My stepmother wants to put her name on the deed of my late father’s house, then she says she’ll split it

Dear Moneyist,

My parents got divorced when I was young and my dad remarried someone and they got a house together, but my dad never put her on the deed.

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The house is paid off and his wife wants to now sell it because my father passed away. My stepmother says she gets half and my father’s two children will split the other half.

She called and said her attorney will send me paperwork to sign to put her name on the deed of the house and then she said the house can be sold and they can split the money. Is she trying to pull a fast one on me?

Stepson

Dear Stepson,

Yes. Maybe. Probably.

When things don’t make sense, there’s usually good reason or — in this case — a bad reason. Your stepmother is right about one thing: You are entitled to a portion of your father’s home if he did not leave a will specifying that his wife receive that property. How much you are owed as a beneficiary depends on what state you live in.

In New York, for instance, she would inherit the first $50,000 of “intestate property” — the property left behind when there is no will — and half of everything else. So she would be correct, if you live in New York. In Texas, your stepmother would inherit one-third of your father’s non-community property and the right to live in that house for life.

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Back to your question: if you choose to sign over your father’s home to your stepmother, there’s no guarantee she would honor that. Also, she should abide by the laws in your state governing distribution of property when there’s no will. Hire an estate lawyer. He or she should advise you to abide by the rules of your state and not agree to sign anything.

I received a similar letter a couple of years ago, this time from the stepmother. She wanted to know whether she could finagle her husband’s life insurance policy, cutting his children out of the picture, even though he had stated in his divorce decree that the life insurance policy was to go to his kids. Does she want the house for herself?

Probably. Maybe. Yes.

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Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used).

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