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The Moneyist: ‘I’ve felt like an outsider my whole life’: My father died without a will, leaving behind my stepmother and her 4 children. Do I have any rights to his estate?

Dear Quentin,

My father died five years ago. His second wife survives. She has two adult children from a previous marriage, and two adult children with my dad. We all have a good relationship. I understand they didn’t have a will at the time of his passing.  

Do I, as his eldest child, have any rights to his estate or his assets? What if she has a will drawn up and leaves me out? I don’t want to stir the pot, as we all do have a civil relationship, even though I have felt like an outsider my whole life. 

I would hope, if she precedes me in death, that the children could respectfully divide the estate, but money can surely change even the most civil of relationships. We live in Ohio, in case that has any bearing on the law.

Outsider in Ohio

Dear Outsider,

One of the most common themes in the letters I receive from children, stepchildren and even adopted children relates to feeling forgotten or cast aside by their parents. An obvious, if complicated, way of trying to rectify that sense of exclusion is through inheritance. 

According to intestate laws in Ohio, “the spouse will inherit 100% of the deceased person’s assets, unless the deceased has children (or descendants of children) from a previous spouse,” according to Baker, Dublikar, a law firm based in North Canton, Ohio.

“In the case of one child (or descendants of a child) from a previous marriage, the spouse will inherit the initial $20,000 of the estate and then split the remaining estate with the child (or descendants of the child) from the other marriage equally,” it adds.

“If multiple children from another marriage (or the descendants of the children) are living, the spouse will receive the initial $20,000, then a third of the remainder. The children from the other marriage (or their descendants) will divide the remaining third,” the law firm says.

“There’s one not-insignificant caveat.”

But there’s one not-insignificant caveat: The time to act was in the immediate aftermath of your father’s death, when his estate was going through probate. Most claims must be made within three to six months. The deadline for making a claim has now likely passed.

Contesting a will or making a claim on an estate is one way to right a wrong. It may be a powerful way of making an official statement about your place in the family, but it won’t make that sense of being an outsider, or the belief that you have been overlooked, go away.

Stepchildren don’t typically figure in intestate succession when there are biological children and next of kin living. Under the circumstances — given that your father passed away five years ago — talk to an estate lawyer (quietly) before ruffling feathers with your stepmother.

Yocan email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook 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.

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

More from Quentin Fottrell:

• I live with my girlfriend, 59, who owns several homes and has saved $3 million. I pay utilities and cable, and do lots of repairs. Is that enough?
• ‘He is the most computer-illiterate person I know’: I was my husband’s research analyst, caregiver, cook and housekeeper. Now he wants a divorce after 38 years.
• ‘Our friends always yearned for a relationship like ours’: My husband of 16 years left me for another man. I don’t want them to live in our properties. What can I do?

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