Monthly Archives: March 2012

Estate Planning and Family Feuds

Family feuds and estate planning were an oxymoron in the 50’s and 60’s.

The family consisted of a mother, a father, and children who shared the same mother and father.     Whether someone died with or without a will, the results were usually the same.     If the spouse made a will, they named the surviving spouse and the children as beneficiaries.   If a spouse died without a will, state intestate laws named the surviving spouse and the children as beneficiaries.

People died fast.    There were no caregivers or need to pay for long term care from family resources.

Fast forward to today. According to a recent USA article: Blended families are now the norm.   “More than half of all first marriages end in divorce and about 75% of divorced people will marry again, according to the National Stepfamily Resource Center. About 65% of these unions will include children from previous marriages. More than 40% of American adults have at least one step-relative, according to a Pew Research Center study earlier this year.”

If you are part of a blended family, dying with or without a will may not provide the results you want for children from a prior marriage.   If your surviving spouse dies without a will, state intestate laws do not provide for step children.     The parents or siblings of your surviving spouse will inherit any property you gave to a surviving spouse before state intestate laws grant any inheritance rights to your children from a first marriage.      If you think a surviving spouse has provided for your children from a first marriage in their will, remember a will is a revocable document.   A surviving spouse has the right to change a will after you die and give property you intended to be left to your children from a first marriage  to his or her children from another marriage.

We no longer die fast.     As we age, we lose our ability to manage our own affairs.    Our children are often our caregivers.    A caregiver may believe they deserve more than other siblings for taking care of their parents.

In a recent conversation with an estate planning lawyer, we talked about the growing demand for estate planning lawyers with litigation experience.   He explained families usually fight for two reasons.  The siblings fight because they believe the caregiver doesn’t deserve any special treatment.  The children from a first marriage and a surviving spouse from a second marriage fight because the children want to protect their future inheritance.