My mother and father had a rocky part of their marriage in their early 60s. They actually separated for about six months. My mother had some mental-health issues that caused the separation. My dad is nearly 72 and my mother passed away eight years ago.
My dad worked in a different town for a period of time. During that time, he had an affair with a much younger coworker. She got pregnant and had a baby boy. My mom and dad never said anything about this. She blamed herself for driving my dad away.
Since my mom’s death my father has lived alone. He will disappear sometimes for a week at a time only saying that he is out of town visiting friends. My father has just been diagnosed with cancer. The prognosis is good, but he had a talk with all of my sisters about his estate.
“‘My two sisters were in a state of shock over the revelation.’”
My father just dropped a bombshell about the affair and the 9-year-old stepbrother we did not know about. My two sisters were in a state of shock over the revelation. I am 40 years old, and my two sisters are in their mid 30s.
My folks helped us all out when we got married and as we started out in our careers. We are all financially secure. My father and mother put together a fairly large estate. He owns about $5 million to $6 million in real estate, has about $2.5 million in Roth IRAs, plus some CDs and a brokerage account. All told, he’s worth $10 million.
“‘Can the new stepbrother get 25% of my dad’s estate?’”
He also had told us that he had started a 529 for our stepbrother and he has about $60,000 in it. The lady he had the affair with has not asked for any child support, according to my dad, and they have been seeing each other over the past few years.
My father is going to update his will and estate plan. He has asked us for suggestions on how to handle this. My two sisters are furious with my dad and don’t want to discuss it. I am the only one that understands a little.
My concerns are: What should we do legally? Can the new stepbrother get 25% of my dad’s estate? What are the girlfriend’s rights to my dad’s estate? My father has a clear mind, and his cancer diagnosis got this conversation started.
Dazed and Confused in Colorado
Dear Dazed and Confused,
You can look at this new addition to your family through a lens of fear and resentment, or as a Thanksgiving gift.
There are no guarantees that a parent with a $10 million fortune will leave any of it to his children. Yes, your father’s son is fortunate to have a parent with such means, especially as it will no doubt come as a surprise. But you and your sisters are lucky too. You just had a lifetime to get used to the idea.
I’m glad you have asked about the legality and practicality of dividing your father’s estate. If we are not here to help each other, what is the point? Your father’s wealth should make it easier for you and your sisters to come to terms with the news that your father has a child whose life now comes with immeasurably more opportunities. As yours does too.
Three things: 1. Not all states treat half-siblings equally under intestacy laws. 2. Stepchildren are not regarded as legal heirs. And 3. Your 9-year-old brother is not a stepchild. He is your father’s biological child, and your half-sibling. The biggest mistake you could make is to allow your father’s affair to reflect on your feelings for your younger brother.
“‘He is your father’s biological child, and your half-sibling.’”
You have a couple of choices. You can split your father’s estate four ways, and treat your 9-year-old brother as an equal. Or you can use your state’s laws as a guide. I favor a 25% split. Your father can set up a trust in his name to provide for his schooling, provide him with an income and, eventually, a lump sum to spend on real estate or to set up his own business.
In Texas, if there is more than one full sibling, half-siblings inherit half as much as the full sibling inherits because they only share one parent with their others, writes Rania Combs, an attorney licensed in Texas and North Carolina. In California, Florida, Georgia, Minnesota, and North Carolina, half-siblings and full siblings have the same intestacy rights, she adds.
There may come a time when he needs an older brother, or would like to have an older brother for guidance. In addition to this being a financial dilemma for your family — as far as your inheritance is concerned — it’s also an opportunity for you to mentor and be of service to this boy as he gets older. He may believe he is an only child.
The other inheritance, if you are willing, lies within the goodwill and acceptance of you and your two sisters.
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.
By emailing your questions, you agree to having them published anonymously on MarketWatch. By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Co., the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.