As estate-planners, we work with a wide range of people, from young couples to much older widows and widowers. By far the toughest group to help though, fall in between these two ends of the spectrum. The most complicated family situations arise in blended families- later in life marriages when each spouse has their own children.
If you are in this group, be forewarned that the planning process can be more time-consuming than traditional first-marriage estate planning!
Think about it. In a traditional first marriage there is the spouse and then there are the children (of any age) for each spouse to take care of. Each spouse typically will say that if he or she dies first, it all passes to the surviving spouse. If the surviving spouse is also deceased, then everything goes to all the children equally.
In a second marriage though, each spouse not only has a lifetime of assets and possibly some wealth they are bringing into the marriage, they also have their own children to think about. While a plan like above would work, that is only if they want to spread their wealth equally. Many times they don’t. Also, there is nothing to stop the surviving spouse from changing his or her Will after the first to die. This could have the effect of disinheriting the first spouse’s children altogether!
In a second marriage even if there is a pre-nup*, when the first spouse dies, the surviving spouse is in charge of many, possibly all of their combined assets. His or her children will continue to visit and take care of the surviving spouse and the children of the deceased spouse grow more and more removed the longer the time goes. At some point one of the surviving spouse’s children might say “those step-kids never come to visit you. Why should they get the same amount as your own children? Why not just change your will to leave them out?” It happens all the time!
There are ways that a married couple can provide for their respective children, but it takes more planning and discussion than a traditional plan. It is safe to say though, that without planning, you are setting both sides of the family up for extensive and expensive litigation! If you want to minimize, possibly even eliminate that risk, come talk to us about what you can do to avoid conflict!
*Did you know that a pre-nup doesn’t protect you or your separate assets from your spouse’s nursing home expenses? It doesn’t! You can however,r add protection when doing your other estate planning that will allow each of the spouses to be insulated from much of the other spouse’s nursing home expenses.
William G. Nolan
Elder Law Attorney
The Alabama Elder Care Law Firm, LLC