“We are a classic blended family,” Lynne said with some pride in her voice. “Yeah,” Greg chimed in, “but we had no idea what it would take to make this family work. We did the best we could, though and, for the most part, we have been pretty lucky. The children are now grown and out of the house.” “Thank goodness,” Lynne added with a smile.
But it was not good news that brought them to our office; instead, they were here to figure out how to manage their estate in light of the fact that they had helped two of their adult children quite a bit more than they had helped the other children. And, now, they were beginning to sense a growing expectation on the part of the other children that their parents would “make things right” with their estate plan.
Near the beginning of this year, we wrote an article about blended families and the unique estate planning concerns those parents face, but Greg and Lynne’s situation reminded us how often a family’s unique circumstances require unique solutions.
No matter how solid the relationships might be, it is important for parents to be aware how blended families can create unique estate planning issues. In Greg and Lynne’s case, they were worried about how step-siblings felt about help by their parent for the “other” family’s children and grandchildren. Other blended families have far different concerns, such as when one parent passes away and the surviving step-parent remarries. If the deceased spouse’s estate was given to the surviving step-parent, will it ever be used for the benefit of the deceased spouse’s children or will the new spouse and his/her children benefit instead?
Of course, we all want and expect the answer to be yes, the children of the deceased spouse will be cared for, but that is not always the case. There are numerous examples where things drastically changed after the death of the first spouse in a blended marriage. But there are things other than remarriage that can happen over the subsequent years that may change how the deceased spouse’s estate will be handled. Sometimes the surviving step-parent begins to experience some of the frailties of age and may become susceptible to clouded judgment from loneliness, and/or a decline in health.
All of those are risks of varying degrees that can be avoided if the deceased spouse has set in place proper controls over the estate through a trust. A Will simply cannot provide that type of control. We advise our clients that they should never leave these issues to chance. Instead, we help them explore how they can maintain the control that will ensure their estate will provide proper support for their spouse, while also ensuring the remainder can go on to their children.
For Greg and Lynne, though, their estate plan needed to have a more immediate impact because the concerns they faced were endangering family relationships that they had worked so hard to create and preserve. In their case, a trust was useful to protect their long-term concerns, but they also needed to include a small gifting strategy that was used to calm the waters now.
For any regular reader of this column, alarm bells may be going off when you read anything that suggests we believe that parents must use their estate to meet their children’s expectations; so for the record, we do not believe that and would never advise our clients to try to satisfy their children’s wants. Instead, we regularly tell our clients that their estate is theirs to manage however they want and they should never build any expectation within the family that the children’s wishes somehow control.
Instead, every parent in every family, whether blended or not, should feel free to address what they sense is their children’s needs, and not their wants. Sometimes, that is best handled though a gifting strategy, as it was for Greg and Lynne.
Regardless of your unique family situation, a good estate plan will allow you to begin to address your children’s needs, but still take care of your own; and perhaps the year end is a good time for you to take an inventory of your family’s circumstances and begin to build an estate plan that will bring relief and solutions to replace doubt and fears. If 2020 has taught us anything, it is probably that we have no idea of what is ahead and what we thought would be the norm may be nothing but a memory.
We discuss these, and other, estate planning matters in our no-cost seminars. Due to the precautions we are all taking in light of COVID-19, we are changing the format of these seminars to telephonic participation so that we can be careful, but still share relevant estate planning information to as many people as possible. If you are interested in participating, or if you have any questions about this article or topics you would like us to address in future columns, send an e-mail to Admin@GJlawyer.com or call (970) 270-1213. Ext.4
Brad Wright’s business and estate planning practice includes transactional matters with a special focus on business succession. His brother, Steve Wright, has a similar law practice in Idaho Falls, Idaho and, together, they assist businesses of all sizes and types with a wide variety of legal issues.
© 2020 Brad R Wright, Steven J Wright