‘She’s going off into the sunset with my father’s things’: My father is dead and my stepmother is going to France. There was no memorial. what can i do?

Dear Quentin

My father died and his wife – my stepmother – has been neglecting the whole family. I have made several attempts to ask questions, but I have been blocked. And her son is accusing us that we only want our father’s things. I don’t have money for advice. I didn’t work because I was sick. I tried the good approach and got no answer – just silence.

My stepmother is talking about going to France, and if that happens, we will have no answer. My father died in France while visiting her family and they held his funeral there. I miss saying goodbye. We promised a memorial but nothing happened. We were promised my dad’s ashes and some jewelry, but again we’re left waiting.

I’m afraid my stepmom won’t move and we won’t hear from her again. I know nothing about our rights. I know she is my father’s spouse, and therefore she is entitled to things. But we do not remember our father. All I have are two t-shirts I received from my sister. If I don’t do something now, no one will.

My stepmother knew we didn’t have money to do anything. She’ll take my father’s stuff and ride off into the sunset, and we’ll be left with nothing. My stepmother’s family pushed my father’s family away and withheld information about his health, and now we are being given the silent treatment. We are being treated unfairly, and I don’t know what to do. Can you help?

Sad girl

dear girl,

When a parent dies intestate — that is, without a will — you’ll have to look at probate laws in your area. If your father had a will, it must be filed with the probate court in the county where he lived at the time of his death. But grief and greed are terrible bedfellows: your stepmother seems unwilling to part with any of your personal belongings from your father’s house, and with little compassion, you wonder where to put your grief and anger.

For those living in the US, ownership laws in each state dictate who gets what. In California, for example, your stepmother inherits all of the community/marital property – such as the home you jointly own – and the children get a separate one-third share of the property. In Texas, she inherits all of her community property and one-third of your father’s separate property, and has the right to use the real estate for life.

The statute of limitations in other countries also varies. In the UK, you and your siblings will only inherit if the property is valued at more than £270,000 ($308,000). Anything over this amount is split 50/50, with half going to your spouse – your stepmother – and the other half going to the children. The spouse is entitled to “personal chattels” or “movable property” belonging to the deceased, excluding cash. Unfortunately, that can include items with sentimental value.

You are not powerless. You can organize a memorial service for your father and invite his friends and family. It can be as simple as you want: you can have it at a local park, a friend’s garden, or anywhere that means a lot to your dad. What matters is the people who are offered, the words of remembrance that are said and the ceremony – it doesn’t have to be religious but it gives you some sort of closure and a chance to say goodbye to your father.

You can also get free legal help. A lawyer will give his opinion on whether or not you have a case. Regardless, you have a choice to make a different legacy: ignore your stepmother and her unwillingness to cooperate with you, or risk your emotional and mental health by resisting her actions for months or years. At some point, no matter how unfair it seems, we have to accept the outcome and move on.

Check out Moneyist’s personal Facebook page Group, where we find answers to life’s most challenging financial issues. Readers write to me in all kinds of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

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