What am I to my stepchildren now that my husband has died?

You marry the man who doesn’t want to have children with you; he already has children from a previous marriage. Sometimes his children live with you; sometimes you have partial custody or visitation, but they are definitely part of your life now.

Maybe it’s a close and wonderful relationship in which the word “step” disappears. Or maybe it’s a mess, and you can barely be in the same room with each other. For most of us, it’s somewhere in-between. You inevitably connect because you have their father in common. They grow up, they marry, they have children, and you become a step-parent-in-law and step-grandmother. Again, you may be close or distant, but there is a connection.

Then the worst happens, and your husband, their father, dies. Regular readers know that I’m living this reality right now, but let’s stay hypothetical for a minute. Your husband, the link to those children, is gone. You all grieve the loss, but now the question arises and sits out there like a hippopotamus in the front yard. What is your relationship now?

A web search turns up lots of legalities, mostly concerns about custody and inheritance. In both cases, let’s hope you’ve got something in writing. If you and your husband had custody of his children, and somebody wants to take the kids away from you, that’s a big issue that I’m not going to address here. Better find a good attorney.

When it comes to his estate, what happens if his wishes are not stated in his will depends on where you live. In some states, his kids are entitled to half of what he owned, and you get the other half. I don’t know about you, but giving up 50 percent would leave me homeless and bankrupt. In some places, as his spouse, you get it all, but it varies and you should know what the law says. You should also both have wills, even if you’re young and healthy.

You should also know that in most states, stepchildren are not your legal heirs. When you die, they will not automatically receive anything from your estate unless you specifically leave it to them in your will.

So, if they’re not your legal heirs, we come back to what is your relationship now? I’m reminded of an aunt by marriage who has been widowed for several years. No one ever considered that she was no longer a member of the family when my uncle died. Of course, her kids are blood relatives . . .

It’s different with stepparents. We don’t share one drop of blood. Our only familial link is our spouse, and when he’s gone, then what? I guess it depends on what kind of relationship you’ve established over the years. If you have developed a close-knit family, you will remain in each other’s lives. If not, you may drift apart. In my case, we’ll see, but I fear it’s going to be the latter.

I’d like to offer some resources, but I find everything for stepparents is either legalities or young stepmothers complaining about their young stepchildren and their evil biological mothers. I’m not finding anything for older spouses with grown stepchildren. I’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions on the subject. And of course, if you’re a childless stepfather, just reverse the genders and the same questions apply to you, too.

7 thoughts on “What am I to my stepchildren now that my husband has died?

  1. I googled and found this blog post from 2011. I am going throught a heart wrenching time because my stepdaughters told me I would still be Nana to the grandchildren, but no one cared to ask me if I had plans for Easter and today I find the oldest grandchild is graduating high school today and I have not been invited. Very hurtful. I will send my granddaughter a graduation card and gift card, but I will no longer expect or even hope for an invitation to anything.


  2. Anonymous June 5, I am so sorry. It is hurtful. My story is pretty similar. To lose the stepkids on top of everything else just doesn't seem fair. Here's a big virtual hug. ((((()))))


  3. For me, the problems started as soon as my wife died. She was older than me and I was widowed at 55. That leaves her two sons that we had supported since we married in 1983. As of today 6/17, I have not spoken to one boy since August of 2013, I have given him money, helped them every time they needed help but still only get grief in return. The oldest boy will hit his kids if they mention my name, or desire to come see me. For me, I am at a point in my life if they don’t want me in their lives, so be it .


  4. Oh Anonymous June 17, I'm sorry. I'm sorry you lost your wife and sorry that her sons are not supporting you. You may have to let them go, at least for now. Maybe later they'll grow up and realize how much you have done for them.
    I feel for you.


  5. One of my deceased husband's sons is so selfish now that they own the house. He's threatened law enforcement because I told him I had guests and he wouldn't be able to start inventory. But thank God, my life is not contingent on him being understanding.


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