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Estate Planning To Avoid Lateral Transfer Of Wealth In Blended Families

What Happens After You Pass Away?

When you die and if your spouse remarries, will your spouse's new husband or wife and the stepchildren inherit your children's share of the family inheritance? This may be difficult for some people to think about, but it is something that married couples may want to consider. This is especially true in an era where some people are living much longer lives.

Modern Estate Planning

Once upon a time when Mom or Dad passed away, the surviving spouse lived for a few years with a family member or in a nursing home and then died. Today the typical surviving spouse will live for 20 years or more, often in good health and will want to enjoy life, including marrying a new spouse.

This often causes distress in the first family because the children may feel that the surviving spouse has "let down" the memory of the deceased Mom or Dad. What's more, the first family may have conflicts with the new spouse over care of the Mom or Dad and the use of the surviving spouse's assets. If the new spouse also has children from a previous marriage, the first family may resent the influence that the stepchildren exercise over their parent.

Blended Families

"The Brady Bunch" makes good TV entertainment but very few "blended families" work out with the harmony of that sitcom. Some people will say "My spouse would never remarry and leave my assets to their new spouse's children." But think about that. You married your spouse because of that person's attractiveness, personality and intelligence. Don't you think that after your passing, another possible mate won't see your spouse's personal charms? Add to that the assets he or she has from your estate and you have a perfect situation for a new matchmaking. And what about the new spouse? Don't you think he or she will want access to your surviving spouse's wealth and to pass it on to their own family?

The Lateral Transfer Of Wealth

This is what we call the "lateral transfer of wealth". It is the source of huge conflicts in our society and in the courts today.

Celebrity Lateral Transfer of Wealth

Remember when Anna Nicole Smith married oilman J. Howard Marshall? He was 89 years old and she was 28 years old when they wed in 1995. He lived for another 13 months. Anna Nicole then inherited Marshall's huge fortune, much to the anger of Howard Marshall's children from his prior marriage. However, there was very little that they could do since Anna Nicole was his wife and his estate plan had not anticipated Howard succumbing to her charms.

Was Anna Nicole a predatory "gold-digger"? We leave that to you to decide. The probate battle has gone up and back from the U.S. Supreme Court. Right now it appears that the Marshall fortune will probably go to Smith's one year-old out-of-wedlock daughter, Dannielynn Birkhead. Stay tuned when more dish comes out.

Family Estate Planning Should Anticipate Second Marriages

What the Anna Nicole Smith-Marshall case illustrates is that family estate planning should anticipate second marriages whether due to death of a spouse or divorce. The estate plan should envision what should happen to the surviving spouse's legacy as well as the children's share upon the remarriage. The only reasonably sure way to control this is through a Trust that continues to monitor the family developments. Even a well-drafted Will cannot deal with these changes in circumstance.

The contents of this article are for information only and is not to be interpreted as legal advice. For personal legal advice you should consult with an attorney who is experienced in probate law or estate planning.

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