Dear Annie: I am in a stressful position now, and it will take my telling the whole story for you to be able to advise me.
My husband died five years ago from cancer. He had a son when we married, and we had one son together. So he had two legal children when he died.
He had no will, though he told me what he wanted: I would have half, and our sons would have the other half, legally. He also owned a farm, and his wish was for his son to farm the land. He told my stepson to be sure to give me at least $10,000 each year to help with expenses. My stepson even told me all of this and said he’d agreed to it.
I was administrator of the estate and put the farm in my stepson’s name in 2013. At that time, my stepson was all about doing what his dad wanted. But he ended up never farming the land and instead renting it out to another farmer. I have yet to get a penny.
My home needs repairs. I am in a lot of pain from health issues, which I won’t go into, so I had to stop working and am now living on Social Security.
I don’t see my stepson and his wife too often because they have their own business and work so much. I don’t know the best way to ask him to do as his dad wanted. I love him and his wife and don’t want to lose the relationship, especially because my son is his half brother. How should I bring this up?
— Widow in Need
Dear Widow: Have your stepson over for dinner, and speak from the heart about your circumstances. You have been part of his life for over 20 years, and if he has an ounce of compassion, he’ll want to help.
It’s also worth consulting with an estate lawyer privately. He or she can assess your situation and make sure you were given everything you were owed.
Dear Annie: As a retired family law attorney, I think it’s important that I correct something assumed in the letter from “Heartsick,” especially because you agreed with it. Depending on the state where the letter writer’s niece and her ex-partner live, it is not necessarily the case that the niece has no legal recourse to contact her ex-partner’s child.
Here in North Carolina and in many other states, a person in the niece’s position, under certain circumstances, may well have the right to go to court and ask the court to examine what would be best for the children and conceivably to order contact between the children and the ex-partner. The niece absolutely should consult an attorney in the relevant state.
If the letter writer’s niece does have rights and informs herself about them, then that may open a door to conversations with the biological mom that avoid the ugliness of litigation but instead lead to successful negotiation of contact between the children and the letter writer’s niece and family. That is to be hoped.
Court fights over custody and over access to children are almost invariably ugly and terribly damaging to the children. But it is also damaging to children to lose a de facto parent, and one can hope that the biological mom will recognize that and do what is best for the children.
— Anti-Litigation Retired Attorney
Send your questions for Annie Lane to firstname.lastname@example.org.