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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Estate planning in blended families

As estate planning lawyers, we know that blended families can be challenging because of the dynamics of the group. However, many people in blended families are somewhat blind (due to their optimism I assume) to the potential issues. Corina Weigl has posted an excellent article on All About Estates describing some of the issues that crop up in blended families, and talking about one useful solution. Click here to read it.


  1. My mother recently passed away, she was in her second marriage for 5 years. Both my mother and her second husband had kids from previous marriages but none together. Their wills were identical and left everything to each other with the explicit intent that after the second spouse died that the estate would be split 50/50 between the two families children.
    One child from each family was named executor after the second spouse dies.
    It was realized after moms death that there is nothing stopping the surviving spouse from changing the will at anytime to anything they desire. Only a notary was used in the drafting of the will, no lawyer was consulted. The notary provided suggestion to avoid probate fees by placing all assets in joint tenancy which was done.
    This situation is stressful as the surviving spouse is selling the home which was entirely owned by our mother before their marriage and is moving into a new home with his children that he will be partly paying for.
    We are in early discussions to find some kind of settlement or security to ensure we have something of our mothers inheritance at the end of his life but are feeling resistance from the surviving spouse to change or settle anything.
    Other than agreeing on a settlement what can we do?
    Is there a way to freeze a will from future changes?
    Should we contest the existing will?
    Thanks in advance for your insight.

    1. This is actually a very common situation. Perhaps your mother didn't realize the will could be changed, or perhaps, like many others, she was simply too trusting of her partner and didn't that he would change it.

      I want to make sure that you understand the legalities of the situation. I haven't seen the will, of course, but I have seen thousands like it. The will probably says that if your mother's spouse survives her, he gets the estate. Then it would say, if he did not survive her, it would go to the children. This is not at all the same as agreeing that when they were both gone, it would go to the children. According to the will, you ONLY have a right to her estate if her husband died before her.

      Perhaps that's not really what she wanted, but the law says that what you put in your will is legally your last wishes so the husband holds the cards on this one.

      I'm surprised he's even willing to talk about a settlement, since legally he doesn't have to.

      Your mother had options while she was alive, but none of those are available now that she has passed on. For example, she could have made mutual wills with her husband, that included a contractual agreement not to change the wills after the death of one of them. She could perhaps have put some assets in trust for him to use while alive that would pass to her children on her death.

      Perhaps she would have made different choices if she had been advised by a lawyer, but then again, we don't know that. I can tell you though that I see this situation constantly and few families get as far as you already have.



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