Dear Ms. Allison: How can 4 siblings get a copy of our deceased father’s Will after leaving everything to his 2nd wife who just died? An adult sibling by his 2nd wife is the executor of their estate. The first 4 siblings are no blood relation to his 2nd wife and were not adopted by her. They resided in the state of Oklahoma. It is our understanding that after his 2nd wife’s passing, his estate would be divided equally among the 5 siblings left alive. However, we have no idea how his remaining estate was to be divided. Unless stated in our father’s Will, are the first 4 siblings by his first marriage entitled to any part of his estate – or does everything go to the sibling by his 2nd marriage? Name Withheld, concerning Oklahoma heirs

Dear Name Withheld:

I am so sorry for your loss. Depending on the county, if your father’s Will was probated you may be able to get a copy online at the Oklahoma Supreme Court Network (OSCN.net). Otherwise, you can get a copy from the county courthouse. However, you should know whether your father’s Will was probated, because you siblings are heirs at law and would have received notice even if you were not to inherit anything at that time. If your father’s Will was not probated, that likely means that no asset was titled only to his name. If that is the case, it does not matter what his Will says, property titles trump Wills. So, the Will is without any legal significance unless you think some sort of fraud occurred at the time of his death.

Unless you can prove there was a contractual agreement with your father (i.e. a prenup) that affects how your stepmother can leave her property, the second wife can leave her property to whomever she pleases. (Her property includes what he left her by designation, joint tenancy, or outright in a probated Will.)

You are not related to her in a way that would entitle you to notice of her probate. Unless you are named in the Will to inherit something, you will receive no notice of the probate, if there is one. However, if the second wife’s Will is probated, as with your father’s Will, you should be able to get a copy of it. Regardless, unwittingly disinheriting children is the classic horror story of a blended family. A general estate plan with no prior, specific instruction in the arrangements means that which children inherit depends on who dies first. There is likely nothing you can do unless there is something fraudulent.

There are ways to avoid this in the future, such as by:
• Leaving the estate in trust for life to the surviving spouse and then remainder to all the children. Or
• Investing in life insurance and leaving all the children a significant share in your Beneficiary Designation.

Regardless, most married couples do not opt to pay for the extra cost of estate planning or otherwise ensuring that the blended family’s children’s inheritance takes place.

Your situation is usually an unintentional problem, but with drastic consequences. It often seems to be about avoiding the legal fees to make the inheritance choices permanent rather than about considering what will happen to the heirs.

Because of that, I believe strongly that the children of either or both marriages should offer to pay for the estate plan or life insurance (or whatever method is chosen) to insure that they are not casually disinherited. If the parents object, children can always say that you would rather pay now than later.

Take a lesson from this, especially if you are part of a blended family. Hire an experienced estate planning lawyer to draw up an estate plan that fits your family situation. All estate plans should be updated whenever there is a major life change, such as a large purchase or sale, a new child, a divorce, or remarriage.

In addition, having only a Will is not necessarily the best estate plan for everyone. Don’t just go to your lawyer and ask for a Will. Go to an estate-focused attorney with many years of experience and ask for the best plan for your particular situation and goals. If it is going to cause ard feelings to craft an estate plan that would be fair for blended siblings, you can engage an estate and elder mediator to help you make agreeable settlement decisions.

That’s your question, Asked and Answered. My best to you,
Gale Allison

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