Defusing the Bomb: Estate Planning for Blended Families

Defusing the Bomb: Estate Planning for Blended Families

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, your family is a ticking time bomb. Step-kids (who may be adults) that can’t stand you, drama at every family event, or maybe just an uncomfortable peace that you never really trust. Unfortunately, it happens far too often.

It’s a common theme that, among other ways, can start like this: (1) married man meets woman at work; (2) they have extra-marital relationship that leads to man’s divorce; (3) man and new woman hook up and subsequently get married; (4) man’s kids hate new woman (she’s not mom and broke up their happy home) and, eventually, for being so despised, new woman hates kids.

While the fact is that new woman (as we’ve come to know her) is probably a fine person, and kids really aren’t the emotional terrorists that they seem to be, the emotional hurt that the kids suffer from the breakup of their parents’ marriage is very real and, like with most other intense emotional pain, the person who is hurt is always trying to find a scapegoat (I.e., a reason why they’re hurt or why their original family didn’t work).

The pain is real and can last forever. While some people may work it out in time, many others don’t. As a probate lawyer, I’ve seen grown, educated, and successful adults devolve into sniveling little children because step-mommy isn’t giving them exactly what they believe they’re entitled to when daddy dies (and, vice versa). In addition, in almost any instance where cooperation between the step-parent and children is needed, the disdain can turn into a lack of trust, which can lead to significant (and costly) legal action.

Unlike Christmas dinner (or any other family event), cooperation between those closely related to you can be critically important to your legal well-being in certain situations. They include:

Disability. If you become disabled and your family needs to pursue a guardianship, Texas law requires that your spouse, adult children, and others are served with notice and provided an opportunity to object to any court action. If your spouse and your kids disagree on whether you should have a guardianship, this can lead to a time-consuming and costly fight. Guess who pays the bill for that fight? Right, just like going to dinner with them. They might pay, but usually, it’s you.

Death. In the event you don’t have a valid Last Will and Testament, in this situation, the fireworks can start quickly. First, dying intestate (the legal term for dying without a Will) triggers a State law that says your surviving spouse gets a portion of your property and your kids get the other portion of your property (provided the kids aren’t legally related to the surviving spouse, like step-kids). Wait – let me say that again – all of a sudden, your spouse and kids (who can’t stand each other) are now co-owners of the property. Gee, uh, I am no brain surgeon but that may not be the best idea. After all, the only recourse for co-owners to make decisions about the property is either (i) selling the property and splitting the money (ii) agreeing on the disposition of the property, or (iii) fighting it out in court. Not great options for people who already don’t like each other.

Fortunately, there are solutions. If you fall into the category of people discussed in this article, never fear. By visiting a qualified estate planning lawyer in your area, you can stop the battle before it starts by simply doing your estate plan (in other words, having a Last Will, Powers of Attorney, etc. ). In most instances, these are very basic (and not very expensive) documents that expressly set forth your wishes for who is in charge of you, your property, and ultimately who gets your property when you die. Most basic estate plans don’t cost a lot of money and are very simple to complete with a lawyer’s help. If you’re in this situation, call us today. We’ve helped many Texas families through this problem and can help yours, too. Most consultations are free (469) 607-4500.

ATTORNEY CHRIS PARVIN is Board Certified in Estate Planning & Probate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Mr. Parvin is the Managing Partner of the Dallas, Texas law firm of Parvin Law Group, P.C. and serves as an Adjunct Professor of Law at Texas A&M University School of Law. Mr. Parvin can be reached by email at chris@parvinlaw.com

Parvin Law Group, P.C. is a Concierge Law Firm in Dallas, Texas with attorneys practicing law in the fields of Estate Planning, Probate, Business Law and Family Law.