While the stereotype of the wicked stepmother is – appropriately – more a figment of the movies than reality, stepmothers can and do play an important role in estate planning. Much like other members of blended families, it is important to address the role a stepmother will play when it comes to your comprehensive estate plan. Recently, Forbes published an article noting that stepmothers are often associated with challenges to an estate plan. This makes sense because, as the article notes, statistics show women live longer and often outlive their husbands. Understanding the source of some of these challenges and working with an attorney to help prevent them can be beneficial for everyone involved.
Late-In-Life Marriages and Estrangement
A common presumption when it comes to marriage that happen later in life is that one person is solely in the marriage for an inheritance, especially if such a marriage is subject to a significant age difference. Such marriages can stand to alienate children, though such alienation can occur with remarriages at any age.
However, marriages that occur later in life can give rise to especially difficult challenges to an estate plan. Claims of duress, undue influence, and capacity can easily arise if beneficiaries suspect their inheritance may be subject to a stepparent’s influence. By regularly revising your estate plan and ensuring that it spells out your specific intentions, you may be able to avoid some of these issues. If you have remarried, it is important to be open and honest about how your estate plan may change and to work with an experienced estate planning attorney to address those changes.
Playing Keep Away
When it comes to games, estate planning is not the place to play them. When tension arises over the terms of an estate plan, many of the individuals involved can become possessive of important assets or general information that can help address and even solve problems that have arisen. Keeping information and documents out of the hands of concerned parties – especially those that have a right to see them – can not only significantly prolong the estate planning process but can also result in other unintended consequences like losing out on important rights that you may benefit from exercising. While you do not have to “give away the farm” in negotiating over issues that have arisen, providing important information to those concerned can strengthen your position and help expedite the administration of an estate.
Prolonging the Inevitable
If you have concerns about an estate plan, especially as it related to a stepparent, it is important to address them early in the process. The longer you wait to have important discussions about aspects in an estate plan that concern you, the more difficult challenging those aspects becomes – and the costlier the process is. Waiting can prolong administration of an estate, which can significantly drain the financial resources within the estate. That affects everyone in one way or another and can be especially costly on a financial level.
Communication Is Key
As with any legal disagreement, seeing things from the other person’s perspective can be difficult. This is especially true when it comes to inheritances. However, if an individual effectively communicates his or her estate plan with everyone that is involved in it then many disagreements can be overcome. By making your intentions clear and being as detailed as possible in your approach to estate planning, there will likely be fewer unanswered questions and your intent stands a better chance of shining through. Not only can this help prevent conflicts, but it can also help solve them when they arise.