Reed: Stepmother gets life estate; children get the bills

Sandra W. Reed
Special to the Reporter

Terry and Teresa’s father, Thomas, died with a will which gifted to Terry and Teresa the home Thomas had long owned prior to marriage. However, it designated a life estate to Carla, their stepmother of two years, while demanding that Terry and Teresa foot the bills for the taxes, insurance and upkeep of the house during their stepmother’s lifetime. The expenses total $10,000 per year.

Sandra Reed

Terry and Teresa have no problem with their stepmother living in the house. However, they each have modest incomes and will have to borrow money to pay these expenses. The stepmother is in her mid-fifties, so they easily could be paying for twenty years or more. To top it all, the stepmother has no interest in remaining in the house and would prefer to move to be closer to her children by a previous marriage.

Can the children contest the will?

The children understand that one of Carla’s friends put pressure on Thomas to add the provision to his will that the children pay these expenses and that he didn’t fully understand the burden it would place on them. These facts present a case for contesting the validity of the will based on undue influence. In seeking legal counsel, the children learn that a will contest could cost anywhere from $5000 to $50,000, funds they don’t have.

Family settlement agreement to the rescue

Fortunately, for the parties involved, Texas law provides a solution to this problem without contested litigation. Terry, Teresa and Carla can enter into a Family Settlement Agreement to divide the property in a manner that differs from the scheme provided in the will. Thomas left the proceeds of a $125,000 life insurance policy to be divided equally between Terry and Teresa. The children could agree to share this with their stepmother in exchange for her giving up the right to the life estate. The children would then be able to sell the house if they so choose and thereby be relieved of the requirement to shoulder the expense of maintaining the house potentially for two decades or more. Carla could then use the life insurance money to secure another place to live.

Sandra W. Reed practices Elder Law in Somervell County, handling probating of estates, drafting of wills, trusts, powers of attorney and deeds as well as estate and Medicaid planning.  She lives on beautiful Chalk Mountain and can be reached at 254.797.0211; 817.946.2809 or at sreed@kbzlaw.com.