Blended Families Raise Challenging Estate Planning Issues – Massachusetts

By Harry S. Margolis

When parents remarry, whether after divorce or the death of the first spouse, estate planning immediately becomes much more complicated.  Both spouses may have children from prior relationships.  Depending on their age, they may then have additional children together.  Their financial status may be similar or highly dissimilar.

All of these situations can lead to unintended results if the the new couple and their attorney do not think them through carefully.  Consider the following examples:

  • In a recently decided case, a man left a trust for his second wife giving her all of the income earned, but no access to principal, which would pass to his daughter upon the wife’s death.  The wife, who was trustee, invested all of the funds in bonds in order to create more income for herself, while guaranteeing no growth of principal for ther stepdaughter.  This led to litigation since the father’s intent in creating the trust was not clear.

  • I recently met with the children of a recently-deceased man who had changed his estate plan over several years, ultimately leaving virtually his entire estate to his much younger and relatively new second wife.  They understood that he had reasoned that she needed the money more than his children who are both successful professionals.  While this won’t affect their lives, they are still hurt by their father’s actions and resentful of this interloper in their family — one hopes a legacy that he did not intend.

  • We have often seen cases where two seniors marry and through lack of planning or poor planning, the entire estates of both spouses ends up passing to the children of the one who happens to live longer.

Plain vanilla estate planning only fits plain vanilla situations — one marriage, one set of children, all with similar needs.

The estate planning process for anyone who doesn’t fit that paradigm is more complicated, more creative and often must consider the fact that the client has conflicting goals. 

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