Late-in-life second marriages are becoming commonplace in American society, and with it, anxiety has been rising among stepchildren. Estate planning lawyers have had to pay greater attention to the particular concerns and needs of blended families because also becoming more common is the courtroom brawls between stepparents and stepchildren and stepsiblings.
The first concern I hear from clients is often related to the financial security of the parents. If Mom moved into Stepdad’s home, what’s to keep Stepdad’s kids from kicking her out of the house if Stepdad were to die first?
The second concern is for the adult children’s prospective inheritance from their natural parent. Many state elective share laws dictate that when a person dies, the spouse naturally inherits a certain share of the estate, which will certainly cut into how much, if any, is left to the decedent’s natural children after the spouse dies.
In California, community property laws can be both a blessing and a nightmare for the adult children of a blended family. On one hand, generally, a surviving spouse doesn’t have a claim over to any property or account kept separately and in the deceased’s name.
However, any property that was held jointly (i.e., homes, common bank accounts) is presumed to be community property and, unless that presumption is rebutted in court, it passes entirely to the surviving spouse. And, even separate property may pass in whole or in part to the surviving spouse if the deceased partner leaves no will.
Older adults bring a greater amount of personal wealth into new relationships and, experts say, they are more practical about the financial realities their late-in-life marriage presents.
A prenuptial or postnuptial agreement can keep Mom in the house owned by Stepdad until her death at which point it passes solely to his children. Keeping property separate in trust accounts can prevent it from being transmuted into community property. And a clause inserted into Dad’s will can ensure that the separate property in his name passes to his children, not his spouse upon his death.
After you die, you could either be rolling in your grave because of the nasty legal battle you left your blended family or resting in peace.