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 four siblings by his first marriage entitled to any part of his estate or does everything go to his sibling by his 2nd marriage? Name Withheld, concerning Oklahoma heirs

Dear Name Withheld:

I am so sorry for your loss. Unless you can prove there was a contractual agreement with your father (i.e. a prenup), the second wife can leave her property (what he left her) to whomever she pleases. 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. If the second wife’s Will is probated, you will be able to get a copy of it by going to the courthouse and paying for that copy. However, depending on the county, you may be able to get a copy online at the Oklahoma Supreme Court Network, OSCN.net.

Unwittingly disinheriting children is the classic horror story of a blended family. With a general estate plan and no prior, specific instruction in those arrangements, which children inherit depends on who dies first. There is likely nothing you can do.

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 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 insuring that the children’s inheritance takes place.

Your situation is usually an unintentional problem, but with drastic consequences. It often seems to be more about avoiding the legal fees to make the inheritance choices permanent 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’d 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. Also, 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 what is the best plan for your particular situation and goals. If crafting a plan fair for blended siblings is going to cause hard feelings, 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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