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Background:

  • I am a 20 years old male, living alone in Austria
  • I have two stepsisters and a stepmother and my father is deceased
  • I lived together with my stepmother for the last 10 years, but moved after my father's death

After my fathers death, who payed for two life insurances (for my two step sisters), his heirs (in this case only my stepmother and me are over 18) have to sign this insurance in order for my sisters to get their money.

My problem is that my stepmother wants me to sign this insurance really bad and nearly pushes me to do so asap, also because it already laid around for almost six months without any progress (I don't know why it took so long, but I only heard of it like a week ago and that my stepmother wants to see me, but we didn't have time until tomorrow) I am really unsure about that because:

  1. I want to read it on my own, without anybody watching so I don't get stressed, because it is quite long and hard to read.
  2. I want to show it to an independent lawyer who can tell me what exactly this is what I am supposed to sign.
  3. My stepmother has to pay me about €20.000 as compensation for the house my father left behind - which makes me feel like she is really mad about this and maybe wants to betray me by trying to make me sign.

She said the only thing that I am signing is that my stepsister get the money of their life insurances, but my close family members told me not to sign anything I don't fully understand and want me take the insurance policy to an independent lawyer. I could also take this to the notary, who also has taken care of this case and my fathers heritage.

Problem:

My step-mother tends to scream at me easily and knows I am not very self-confident. I suspect that she wants to pressure me into not seeing a lawyer.

This topic is pressuring me so much I can't even think about work.

I would like to know how I can best tell my step mother and sisters that I want to go over the documents by myself or even consult external help.

EDIT 1: I settled it on the phone. My stepmother and me agreed on taking these insurance papers to our notary -therefore she won't be able to scream at me or whatsoever. I also got a copy I will take to a lawyer too! She was surprisingly calm and talkative Thank you people!

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    Are you already in contact with a Lawyer? If not, why not? If so, have you considered using them to schedule a meeting with the documents present? Are there any "deadlines" coming up that you know of that will realistically affect things if it doesn't happen "soon"? – WernerCD Jan 30 '18 at 12:43
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    @hopsinat I only mention deadlines because we had a family member pass recently and the timing of things is... interesting. If this doesn't happen in 60 days, then that happens. If that a family appointed person doesn't take over in so many days, the state appoints one... Not sure what timelines exist in Austria (or city/locality) that you are limited by or your stepmom might be pressured by (other than I WANT MUH MUNIIES! - and money brings out the worst in people) – WernerCD Jan 30 '18 at 12:55
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    THAT would be a related line of questions for the lawyer or another SE (Finance?) - financial timers and concerns for what to watch for with regards to Estates, wills and assorted related things... in Austria. – WernerCD Jan 30 '18 at 12:58
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    Be wary of any lawyer your stepmother recommends/introduces. Whilst most professionals value their reputation and integrity, unfortunately it would not be unheard of for a friendly lawyer to carefully spin the facts so as to make the situation appear a little different to the reality. – eggyal Jan 30 '18 at 21:03
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    @dlatikay My understanding is that there are two different issues here: the bequest, which seems to be settled (according to OP); the sisters don't inherit anything (according to OP), I guess because they're not the children of the deceased. And then there are the life insurances where the sisters are beneficiaries. And the OP's signature is needed for the payout of these insurances - and I have no idea why that would be. Also, I'm not sure the executor has anything to do with the payout of life insurance - so if you can shed some light on this it would be interesting :-) – AllTheKingsHorses Jan 31 '18 at 16:56
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  • Phone your stepmother. (As suggested by Martijn: You might want to ask someone to sit with you for this conversation. If you start 'giving in', that person can keep you from doing so.)
  • Tell her politely that you also want to get the insurance thing done as soon as possible.
  • Ask her to send you the insurance documents in the mail or drop them off in your mailbox.
  • If she starts screaming and pushing say "I'm sorry, it isn't possible for me to the sign the documents before reading them thoroughly. If you want this to go forward quickly, please send me the documents as soon as possible."
  • If she continues screaming, hang up. (That's why you do this on the phone: so that you have an easy way out of the situation when it goes wrong.) If she's still listening at all, you can calmly say

    I'm sorry but I don't appreciate this tone. I want to help but I need to read those documents first. I suggest we try this conversation again in a bit.

  • When she pesters you again, repeat. Don't be available to her if she's not willing to cooperate - don't open the door, don't stay on the phone with her.

  • Try to stay calm and polite but firm at all times with her.

She has to realise that her most efficient and easy way of obtaining the insurance money for her daughters is to do what you ask. If she has any reason to believe it'll go quicker if she pressures you, she'll do that.

Once she gives you the documents, do your best to handle the matter quickly. You could already try to find the lawyer you want to consult while you're waiting for the documents. Be a responsible and reliable stepbrother to your sisters, don't keep them waiting unduly - but take the time necessary to convince yourself that everything is legal and OK.

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    You might want to ask someone to sit with you for this conversation. If you start 'giving in', that person can keep you from doing so. – Martijn Jan 30 '18 at 12:19
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    I am planning to do that, exactly for that reason :) – hopsinat Jan 30 '18 at 12:47
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    This is an excellent answer. If it were me, I'd make one change: behavior only works when it is productive. She screams because it gets her what she wants. so deny that. On the phone, when she starts to scream, hang up immediately. Don't debate or give reasons, just hang up. And if she calls you back to scream, hang up again. If she comes to your place, meet her outside and then go back inside and lock the door. The only real way that you can break this behavior is for her to realize that as soon as she raises her voice at you, the conversation ends immediately. – baldPrussian Jan 30 '18 at 15:16
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    Also, make sure that the document that she gives you to review is the same as the one you sign. – Roland Heath Jan 30 '18 at 22:44
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    @hopsinat "Be a responsible and reliable stepbrother to your sisters." This also means that you should do everything in your power to ensure that you are not signing something that will allow the stepmother to screw them out of their money. – user2103 Jan 31 '18 at 3:59
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[...] my close family members told me not to sign anything I don't fully understand [...]

Great, they are right about this.

When it comes to money and for that matter inheritance many people are willing to step over family members. Especially in your case, your relationship to your step-mother and sisters does not seem very stable. So do not act on their advice without thinking carefully.


First you have to be aware that it is your right to view these documents on your own and to consult any help you want, whether it is a lawyer, someone from the notary or another family member. Do not sign this without full understanding of the matter. Personally I would recommend to go to the notary first, see what they can tell you about the heritage and then go to a lawyer with this information already in the back of your head.


Now to the interpersonal part. Your step-mother and sisters want something from you. Not you from them. You are asking for insight in what you are going to sign. This is normal.

You have to make sure that time is your ally. You want it so that the longer they wait the more problems arise for them, while your situation just stays the same. It seems like this is already the case but make sure this really is the case! A lawyer will help you with this. You don't want to lose out on stuff because you overstepped deadlines. They need to give you a reasonable opportunity to read these documents and consult help, otherwise you are fine.

After this is secured you can simply step into this rotation:

1. Ask to view the documents on your own.

Can I view the documents on my own?

or if they approach you about signing them:

Sure, just send me a copy and I will go over it.

2. Their decision.

No. Well it is their decision. Don't sign. Just wait for them to come again.

I do not feel comfortable enough to sign this. I need more information about what I am going to sign. Tell me when you are ready.

Yes. You have done it! Read them, go to a lawyer, do whatever you see fit.

3. They want you to sign it.

I won't. I want to view to the documents on my own.

Just say that you want to view them on your own. No need to mention a lawyer. It is your decision who to consult and non of their business.

If they ask why you want to view them yourself just state the same again. You do not have to tell them why you want to view the documents. The reason is self explanatory. They are trying to guilt trip you.

Basically repeat this for every question they could ask and do not settle for less.

4. repeat

You are in no hurry, time is your ally. Wait for them to come.


Why I think this is the way to go

Their relationship is bad and it doesn't seem there is much enthusiasm to repair it on both sides. Screaming and potential scamming from their side do not make the situation better. Because of this there is no need to be overly friendly. It is better to be discreet and direct.

If the step-mother and sisters think it is so important and not dangerous to him, then they can get the matter settled by letting him view the documents. They won't so there is something fishy.

By consulting a lawyer now he will make sure to not lose out on anything and get into a stable situation.

  • +1 because of the comment about time. The step-family may just be stressed because there is a deadline for the signature of the document. – Steven Mathey Jan 30 '18 at 12:56
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    "Read before you sign". That's a rule everyone should follow. And if you don't understand it, find someone who does. The only reason they want you to sign quickly, without understanding the document, is some benefit to them. Find out what that is and if necessary have a lawyer explain it to you. – baldPrussian Jan 30 '18 at 15:19
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First things first :

Your step-mother's behavior is suspicious as you describe it.

As you describe it you are being bullied into signing a legal document you are not at all confident it is good to do. This is very bad behavior on her part (at best) and very suspicious behavior at worst. You are quite right to have the document checked.

You would be entitled under European law to have any person you want examine the document and advise you on it. You do not need to ask permission or get your stepmother's approval.

Now your stepmother may simply be behaving in a way that you perceive as bullying, but you may be exaggerating it due to your own anxiety (or some other issue). We're just get your side of the story and sometimes that isn't a full picture. But that doesn't mean you should not be reasonably cautious, especially when signing legal documents.

How to do it.

As you clearly do not have much self confidence in dealing with what you see as a bullying personality you should bring a friend with you when collecting the documents to examine them.

This friend can act as a witness to how she behaves (and you behave) and can record the meeting on e.g. their phone if need be.

You clearly need emotional and physical support for the moment and that's the way to do it.

If your stepmother refuses to give you the documents to have examined then that in itself would be suspicious behavior and your friend can act as a witness to that.

Lawyers

Typically in European law you can nominate any lawyer to act as your representative in part or in whole. No one is entitled to refuse to deal with your lawyer under normal circumstances if you tell them that the lawyer is dealing with it. If you want to you can have the lawyer write to your stepmother and formally request the documents be submitted to them for examination prior to possibly signing them if you are happy with them.

No one, except a court or under certain circumstances the police, would be entitled to deprive you of the right to this representation if you choose it.

You are entitled to speak to a lawyer and discuss this matter without asking your stepmother's permission.

Anything you say to your lawyer would, and even the fact that you spoke to one, is something you would normally be entitled to keep confidential if you want. A lawyer is normally legally bound to respect your confidence and is legally protected under most circumstances (unless you both act in a criminal conspiracy usually) to prevent even a court from making them disclose details of what you say to them.

Note that you should normally get your own lawyer in this type of situation. Do not use the same lawyer as your stepmother for this issue.

Now, honestly, lawyers can be a nuisance sometimes as they can slow down things that need to be done. However your concerns are such that you should talk to one.

Mental Health

You sound like someone with possible health issues, either as a result of being bullied or dominated or (and please forgive me from saying so, but as devil's advocate) with extreme anxiety or difficulty dealing with any confrontation.

You may be suffering from depression (grieving after a death can cause quite extreme depression) which would be one good reason to suspect you have problems other than a domineering stepmother. I've had extreme depression myself after family deaths, so I'm saying this from personal experience. And it can take a long time to deal with this depression without help.

You probably need to consult a health professional about this.

In the long run you may be able to gain the skills and self-confidence or to reduce your anxiety (if that's an issue) and to function better in what may be an unhealthy relationship with your extended family.

You cannot deal with any issues like this in the short term, so you need to deal with the legal issue first - to protect yourself from possible exploitation by others.

But in the long term, I'd suggest the sooner you seek some medical advice on your psychological state (either as a result of being bullied or just a severe lack of confidence) the sooner you will start to improve. You might look upon these events as an opportunity to address the larger problem of how your living conditions and personality affect your quality of life and how to improve things.

After my fathers death, who payed for two life insurances (for my two step sisters), his heirs (in this case only my stepmother and me are over 18) have to sign this insurance in order for my sister to get their money.

There may be a translation issue here, but insurance documents are not normally signed after a death, unless you are an executor or legal guardian of your sister. I'm not a lawyer, but my experience of being an executor for my own mother's estate makes me concerned about this confusion.

You do not seem to think of yourself as an executor of the estate or as a guardian. It's possible you may simply not have mentioned this, but you may also not have been made aware of some formal legal responsibility you have (e.g. by your stepmother's omission). You really need to get a lawyer to establish and explain to you what your formal legal position is in respect of your sister and your late father's estate.

This makes consulting a lawyer (of your own) a necessity, IMO.

Now it could be that your own behavior, due to depression or anxiety, is frustrating your stepmother and she's trying to get things done in a way that's perhaps not ideal, but getting a lawyer is, at this stage, a good idea as you clearly lack confidence in her actions and while it's not perfect, a lawyer would at least give you some peace of mind to proceed.

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Your instincts are absolutely right that you should examine the document carefully. Perhaps everything is above-board, and your step-mother is responding to other stressors when she screams, but there is no way to know this without reading the document carefully, and her behavior has put up several read flags.

Since she is not acting rationally about this, I would not trust her to react calmly to your news. Therefore, I would not tell her. Instead, quietly make an appointment with a lawyer, and simply walk out the door with the document.

If she tries to stop you at the door, then explain to her what you are doing, and that if she wants the documents signed, this will be the fastest way to get it done. Her reaction to this revelation would also be informative. If she is simply stressed about how long everything has taken, or believes that you have been procrastinating, she may begin to usher you out the door. If something more nefarious is going on, she may try to stall you. In either case, take that document to the lawyer and get it looked at.

Of course, this all assumes that you have access to the documents. If you don't have physical access, then you need to secure that first. Tell her that you can have it dealt with within a week (or some other reasonable time-frame; make it fair, but something that you can be held to), but you need a copy of the documents first. There's nothing you can do without a copy. I would emphasize that to her if this becomes a problem.

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You do not need to wait until your stepmother gives you a copy of the document she wants you to sign before consulting a lawyer.

I suggest that you not inflame tensions further by telling your stepmother that you want to consult a lawyer. Just keep that to yourself.

I'm going to provide one other suggestion. This is a just-in-case suggestion. You mentioned that you have a hard time standing up to your stepmother. If it happens that she puts the document in front of you and applies psychological pressure such that you find yourself picking up a pen and starting to sign: I suggest that you do some unrecognizable scribble, rather than your normal signature. If she gets upset, you can say you're sorry, and explain that you're so nervous that you're having trouble making a legible signature. (This isn't the most advisable thing to do -- but I wanted to give you a way out in case you find yourself feeling cornered.)

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    Although I understand what you're getting at, I don't support this for one reason - this behavior shows the stepmother that she can bully OP into getting what she wants and encourages the behavior. Even if it's a "bad" signature, the question would be asked "did you sign this document" and the answer would have to be "yes", even if it's not consistent with other signatures. – baldPrussian Jan 31 '18 at 14:46
  • @baldPrussian - I don't know if such a signature would hold up -- that would be something to ask at Law SE. I think if I were feeling so pressured that I felt I had to sign, and for whatever reason I didn't have the gumption to walk out, I would write something along with my signature, such as "I'm signing this under extreme duress." At any rate, my main purpose in suggesting this was to help OP feel less like a cornered rat.... – aparente001 Jan 31 '18 at 20:57
  • @aparente001 - or cultivate bad handwriting (which I do to make my signature all but uncopyable) and use it to scrawl something like Iwillnotsign on every space a signature is required. With sufficiently scrawly handwriting, it may well look enough like a signature to avoid immediate problems but will clearly not hold up later since that is, well, not-a-signature. – Megha May 19 '18 at 22:37
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What means the insurances "for your sisters"? If these insurances were intended to be for your sisters, shouldn't they be part of the contract?

So why do you have to sign anything to make the insurances go their correct way?
If your sisters are planned to receive the money, why should you sign that? That's what I would clarify first of all. This sounds really suspicious.
If you are pressed to sign something, it's mostly not to your benefit. Perhaps there is something in these contracts for you and they want you to refuse that.

Go to a lawyer and ask how this insurance stuff works in your country.

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