At a recent library speech I gave I was asked an estate planning question that I thought I would share with you. The couple explained that they were both in their 70s and had been married about five years. This was a second marriage for each of them as each of their previous spouses had passed away. The couple, when they got married, had combined their finances and they were struggling as to how to divide their estate. Their main problem was how to deal with the kids upon both their deaths.
The first question the couple asked was what obligation do they each have to the other’s adult children? My answer was quite simple, none. What that means is that you have no obligation to leave them anything in your estate. If you adopted the children that would be one thing, but with regard to step-children, you have no obligation to them whatsoever. You can choose to leave them something in your estate or not; it’s totally up to you.
Of course, if you do have children, you have some legal obligation. You don’t necessarily have to leave them anything; rather, you cannot forget them. Therefore, if you choose to disinherit a child for whatever reason, it’s important to mention them in your will and trust and state that they are being disinherited.
The couple had four kids between them. The husband had one daughter while the wife had three sons. They also wanted to know what most people do about dividing the assets after they both passed. My answer to them was I have no idea what the majority of people do and as far as I’m concerned, it is totally irrelevant. When it comes to estate planning, my view is that it doesn’t matter what other people are doing; rather, you should do what you feel is best for your situation
When it comes to estate planning there is no one size fits all. We all have our own family dynamics and our own beliefs as to what is right and wrong. Our estate plan should reflect our desires, not others.
In today’s world where blended marriages are common, there is no right and wrong and you shouldn’t feel pressure from others. Every family situation is different and particularly in blended marriages the issues can be even more complex. Therefore, remember the time to do an estate plan is not when you’re rushed or under pressure but rather, when you have the time to analyze the issues, discuss them with whomever you choose, and think about your decision. When you rush you tend for forget about certain issues which can cause problems when you are no longer around and no one wants that as their legacy.
One last question they asked and that is should they discuss their estate plan with their children. My answer was once again, it depends on each individual situation. If you have a close knit family, generally it is a good idea to discuss your estate plan with the children. On the other hand, if your family is not close and you feel that it will cause you problems and aggravation to discuss it with your children, I probably would pass. Once again, every family dynamic is different and there are no one size answers. You need to look at your situation and decide what works best for your family today and into the future.
If you would like Rick to respond to your questions, please email Rick at firstname.lastname@example.org.