Second Marriages Often Wreck the Execution of an Estate Plan
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The prevalence of divorces and remarriages has introduced a new dimension to the distribution of assets after death. Whereas most first-marriage families are united, most second marriages involve heirs whose interests can be widely divergent.
In a recent article in Financial Advisor, San Diego probate attorney Scott Grossman says the problems start in community property states. One example would be California. Both spouses have separate property (property they owned before the marriage) and community property (property acquired during their married life). A deceased spouse may dispose of his or her half of community property the way he or she wants, says Grossman. But they cannot control what the other spouse does with the other half. The asset distribution may not always end in tears, but it is often the case. “Money changes people, in my experience”, says Grossman. “I can tell you I am seeing more of these cases”, he says.
What if Estate Plans Don’t Take the Conflicting Interests of Stepparents and First and Second Marriage Children into Account?
Examples abound of estate plans that didn’t take the conflicting interests of stepparents and first and second marriage children into account. These ended up in acrimony and contention. Heirs and beneficiaries see no reason to collaborate or compromise. And they may be driven by a long-accumulated frustration to fight for their rights. They often pay a heavy price as decisions become purely emotional.
Probate administration and estate planning professionals all seem to agree that second marriages often lead to confrontational and highly emotional situations. These situations can be made worse if the decedent failed to plan for the distribution of his estate. Or if they failed to recognize the underlying conflicts, and trusted verbal promises and statements of intentions rather than legal steps and written documents.