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Why Estate Planning is More Interesting Than Ever

Changes in the make up of families has made estate planning both more complicated and more interesting than ever before. While the traditional Ozzie and Harriet family in reality may have been less prevalent than portrayed in the 50s and 60s, the model no longer applies to most families today. An unmarried woman may be the mom of a child whose sperm donor is a close, gay friend in a long-term relationship with another man.

An old article in The New York Times (which is no longer available on line) describes such a situation. While the father had never intended to be a “dad” and didn’t expect to do more than contribute his sperm, he became inexorably drawn in to his son’s life, spending time with him and sleeping over one night a week so the mom can have some time to herself.  The article described how this grew to the point that hew was spending four nights a week with his son.

The woman and man unintentionally created an unusual family that was still evolving.

What the article didn’t talk about is some of the estate planning challenges that these parents must now confront, including the following:

  • As a single mom, Carol, must plan for her child’s future even more than those sharing their life with the parent of their child.  This means a will nominating a guardian, a trust for the child, and probably life insurance to fund the trust.  By the way, she’s an older mom as well.
  • The dad must plan for his son as well as his partner.
  • The dad’s partner may want to consider planning for the little boy as well.
  • All of these plans become more complicated since none involves the standard configuration of spouses and parents, and all are more likely to change over time, which means the off-the-shelf forms from LegalZoom or another source won’t do the trick.
  • And the “intestacy” rules, the default state laws that say who gets what in the absence of an estate plan, won’t work either.

This is all more interesting for estate planners than a will that says I give everything to my spouse and then to my children. Whenever planning for families that don’t fit the Ozzie and Harriet model, whether this involves single parents, unmarried parents, divorced or widowed parents, or blended families, estate planning becomes ever more creative and vital.

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