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.