Children vs New Spouse

If you’ve been married more than once, you should be aware of the complications that may arise with your estate. One of the most common estate issues to be brought before a surrogate judge involves children from the first marriage versus the second (or third or fourth) wife.

The children rarely believe that the wife who is not their mother should receive a major portion of the estate and the wife often loses her home and security in a battle with the children.

Sometimes it’s the wife who muddies the waters, hiding the will if she discovers that the children will receive a major portion at her expense.

Neither sees the other as a deserving party to the estate and it can become very ugly, especially if the first wife is steering her children into the battle. Suddenly the bitterness of the long-ago divorce is resurrected in a new battle with the succeeding wife becoming the enemy.

The widow is fighting to keep her home and possessions. She is fighting to prevent having everything sold out from underneath her. If the children claim a portion of the estate, unless there is a bank account or other liquid assets big enough to pay off the children’s claims, the widow is forced to sell her furniture, home and car to pay off the children.

On the flip side, the children see themselves as having shared decades with their father versus just a handful of years by the new wife. The children perceive a fair division to be one that would give them the bulk of the estate with a small payout to the wife for her few years of service versus their decades of love and loyalty.

It gets even more complicated if the current wife also has children from a previous marriage. All of your combined assets by her estimation should also belong to her children. You may have raised the children as your own or you may not have met them until they were adults. Either way, complications can arise, especially between your biological children and your current wife’s children.

Even with a will, the various parties may drag it into court with the hopes of overturning the will. Surrogate judges rule on such cases every single day and the truth is that everyone is deserving in their own right and your wishes can get lost in the shuffle.

What can you do to prevent an estate battle that will devastate your wife and create an all out war between your current wife and your children from a previous marriage?

The first thing you should do is revisit all of the assets you had before you got married. If you opened bank accounts in your own name, the bank likely asked you to designate a beneficiary for the accounts. You may have chosen your children. If you pass on without changing that designation, all of the money in the bank accounts will go to your children. If your wife relies on that money to pay the mortgage, utilities, etc. she may be forced into foreclosure or bankruptcy unexpectedly.

Stocks, bonds and life insurance policies also appoint beneficiaries when you open the accounts so you should update the designation to reflect both your current wife and existing children.

Another issue is the payment of your funeral. Ideally you should have an insurance policy to cover the costs of your funeral with the funeral home itself as the beneficiary. If you appoint your child or wife as beneficiary with verbal instructions that this policy is to cover your funeral, the beneficiary can easily ignore your wishes, take the money, and force payment of the funeral from another source.

Your household possessions will also come into play. Do not assume that your wife automatically keeps everything in the house. Do not assume that your wife will honor your relationship with your children or that they will honor your relationship with your wife. Spell it out in your will as clearly as possible and choose an unbiased executor to implement the will. Leave a copy of the will with your chosen executor and attorney to ensure that it doesn’t mysteriously disappear.

You might also consider making a videotape spelling out your wishes. Most digital cameras today offer the ability to make short movies with sound. This gives you the opportunity to tell people you love them and say goodbye. It also allows you to solidify your will making it harder to overturn in court.

Give a copy of this video clip to your attorney, attach the video to every copy of the will and make sure that at least one unbiased person has a copy of both. Make sure to announce the date, especially if you’ve changed your will and there are multiple versions floating around.

If your estate includes items you owned prior to your current marriage that you want your children to have, such as a family heirloom passed down from your grandmother, specify in both your will and on the video who you want such heirlooms to pass on to.

Consider putting some of your assets into the names of the beneficiaries themselves while you are still alive. If you bought a car for your wife, make sure she is named on the title. Consider doing the same for stocks and bonds. Talk to an estate attorney about how your house is titled.

Getting advice from the right type of attorney can make all the difference if a battle ensues. Estate attorneys deal specifically with estate battles every day and they know better than anyone what can happen and how you might avoid it.

Don’t wait until you are in your golden years to address these issues. Changes made within a few months of your death can be argued in court and overturned. Even turning a bank account into a joint bank account can be overturned by a judge, putting the account back into the general estate for full division if it’s done within a few months of your death.

Let your loved ones mourn you in peace. Protect their memories of you from an ugly estate battle. Get advice from an estate attorney on how to title all of your assets. Choose an unbiased executor who is not also a beneficiary. Update your will and beneficiary designations and record a video to solidify your wishes. Put the will and the video into the hands of several trusted people so that you can live with the peace of mind that your loved ones will be taken care of exactly as you wish them to be.

You’re Invited to Call or E-Mail!

If you are considering a will, power of attorney, or trust — or have already made your decision — you’re invited to call or email us. We’ll explain how you can protect your loved ones and your assets. You can call us at (613) 519-0320 or email us using our contact form here.

Updating Wills

While every responsible adult should have a last will and testament in place to protect those they love and care about, unfortunately, many people will never get around to creating this important document. That is shame, since the lack of a will can greatly complicate the estate process for those left behind, resulting in large legal expenses, unnecessary financial hassles and even bitter family disputes. All of this can be avoided by simply taking the time to create a last will and testament. It may be an unpleasant task but it is an important one, one that every person should take the time to complete.

But it is not enough to simply create a last will and testament and forget about it. While having a will is certainly better than not having one, a will that is seriously out of date can create its own set of problems. If it has been awhile since you created this vital document it may be time to revisit your will and make sure the dictates it spells out are still in line with your true wishes.

If it has been some time since you first sat down to create your last will and testament now may be a good time to review the details of this document to see if any changes are warranted. Chances are good that something in your life has changed in the interim, and it is a good idea to reflect those changes with an updated will. Perhaps you bought or sold your home, acquired some new financial assets or celebrated the birth of a new baby. These changes mean that it may be time to update your will to reflect your wishes.

You may also want to revisit your last will and testament if you have experienced other significant life changing events, such as a marriage, a divorce or the birth of a child. All of these events can have a profound impact on how you want your assets to be distributed, and it is important that your will reflect those changes. If you fail to update your will those assets you worked so hard to protect in the divorce could end up in the hands of your ex-spouse, and chances are this is not in line with your wishes.

The good news is that updating an existing will is not as daunting a task as creating a last will and testament for the first time. The creation of a will can be a difficult and challenging task, but updating the existing document should be much easier. It is just a matter of thinking about your final wishes, making sure those wishes are reflected in your will and refilling this important document. With so much at stake it is a good idea to make an annual review of your will part of your yearly financial planning activities.

You’re Invited to Call or E-Mail!

If you are considering a will, power of attorney, or trust — or have already made your decision — you’re invited to call or email us. We’ll explain how you can protect your loved ones and your assets. You can call us at (613) 519-0320 or email us using our contact form here.