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Avoid the Pitfalls of Estate Planning in “Brady Bunch Marriages”
“Brady Bunch marriages” – in which spouses bring their kids from prior relationships into the new marriage – pose a number of potential problems when it comes to estate planning. Imagine the following scenarios:
- Husband and wife sign an “I Love You will” which leaves everything to the other spouse upon death. The husband dies first, and all his assets go to his wife. When she dies, all her assets go to her children, as is very common in a simple will. In this case, the husband’s children get none of his estate; they were bypassed entirely.
Husband promises to “do the right thing” if his wife dies before him and ensure that her children get some of her money, even though he inherits it all. Upon her death, he decides to keep the money himself, giving her children nothing.
Husband wants to leave a third of his assets to his wife, a third to his children, and a third to his wife’s children. The wife wants to leave all of her assets to her children.
You can see how any one of these scenarios could lead to legal complications. More importantly, situations like these can tear apart formerly loving families and lead to resentment, disillusionment, and anger. How can they be avoided?
Be Deliberate About Your Estate Plan
If your family situation is complicated, you owe it to yourself and your family to have an estate plan that will carry out your wishes when you die. You have many options, but here are three possible choices:
Option 1. You split your assets up in your will and give some to your spouse, the rest to your kids.
Option 2. You and your spouse sign a waiver stating that there will be no claim to the spouse’s assets upon death, nor any right to them. The kids get everything. (See below for more information on this type of waiver.)
Option 3. You put your assets in a trust which your spouse can enjoy limited privileges from during their lifetime, and upon their death, the trust automatically passes to your kids. Note there are many different kinds of trusts, so make sure you’re getting the right kind for your particular situation.
Your assets are yours to distribute as you see fit and you can use wills, trusts, and other tools to make that happen. It’s smart to have an estate planning attorney review your documents regularly so you don’t experience any unintended consequences of bad estate planning.
Spouses Are Automatic Heirs, Unless You Disinherit Them
As a married person in South Carolina, your spouse has a very strong claim on your property in the case of divorce or death. If you die without a will, they get either all or part of your estate. Even if you die with a will that says you don’t want them inheriting any of your assets, the law may say otherwise. The reason is because you cannot disinherit a spouse without their consent.
In South Carolina, you have three ways to disinherit a spouse:
- 1) Sign a prenuptial agreement
2) Sign a postnuptial agreement
3) Sign a waiver of elective share before or after marriage
Both spouses must sign a waiver of elective share that waives their rights to their spouse’s assets upon death, in whole or in part. However, this waiver does not waive either spouse’s rights to the other’s assets upon divorce, so it’s different from a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement.
To get a waiver of elective share, both spouses must present an accurate picture of their financial status to the other, so the waiver is made with full knowledge of what they are waiving their rights to. In cases where there’s a large discrepancy in amount of money (i.e., one spouse has a lot of money while the other one has very little), it’s wise for both spouses to retain their own lawyers.
Waivers of elective share aren’t particularly common, but they’re worth considering if you are sure you don’t want your spouse inheriting your property upon your death.
Be Explicit in Your Estate Planning
To illustrate how strong the claim a person has on their spouse’s property, consider this example.
A couple decides to get divorced. They file for divorce on January 1st. On September 1st, they have a hearing. On September 25th, the court orders for divorce. Two days later, the husband dies. A few days after that, on October 1st, the judge signs the order for divorce. In this case, even though the couple was in the process of getting divorced, the surviving wife was entitled to a portion of her deceased almost-ex-husband’s estate because on the day he died, they were still technically married.
What if you’re going through a divorce and don’t want your spouse to claim any of your assets should you unexpectedly die? At this point, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to persuade them to sign a prenup, postnup, or waiver of elective share. This is all the more reason not to delay in the divorce proceedings.
Work With An Experienced Estate Planning Attorney
As you can see, estate planning gets complicated once you factor in divorce and add children from previous marriages, children from new marriages, and second (and third and fourth…) spouses. If you’re in this situation, be sure to work with an attorney who has experience with estate planning for blended families, particularly with trusts and elective share.
If you’re in South Carolina, contact estate planning attorney Gem McDowell. He has extensive experience handling estate planning for “Brady Bunch marriages” and is aware of the pitfalls of standard estate planning. He is ready to help you with your complicated estate planning needs at their law office in Mt. Pleasant. Get in touch online or call them today at (843) 284-1021 to schedule your consultation.