Times Have Changed
Remember the TV sitcoms from the 1950s and '60s that are now being rerun on late night TV? The TV shows "Ozzie and Harriet" or "Leave it to Beaver" both told stories of families consisting of a husband and wife and their two children. These programs portrayed what is called the traditional family in America. That was years ago and things have changed a lot since then.
The Non-Traditional Family
Now we have what are called "non-traditional" families. There are many varieties of these "non-traditional" families. These include single parent families, couples who live together who are not married - many of whom have children, gay couples, married people with children from prior relationships, grandparents raising their grandchildren, and many other household arrangements.
In fact if you look around your neighborhood, you would probably see more non-traditional families than traditional ones.
Most Laws Were Written For The Traditional Family
Now most of our laws were written to provide for the needs of traditional families.
What this means is that those non-traditional families must often put together legal tools to meet their unique needs. Or maybe they'll do nothing, hoping that things will work out without a plan. Sometimes people will attempt to fashion their own agreement or patch together various legal documents to accommodate their particular situation.
Sometimes these approaches work out and sometimes these efforts are disastrous.
Let me give you a few examples.
Tom and Alice, who are not married, bought a house together. Both of their names are on the mortgage and on the deed. Their relationship soured so Tom moved out. Tom wants to get his money from the house and wants to qualify for a new mortgage for another house. Alice wants to continue living in the house but is falling behind on the mortgage payments. Tom is frustrated. The bank will not give him a new mortgage. Worse yet, as the mortgage continues to be delinquent, both Tom's and Alice's credit ratings become very bad.
Sam and Adam are a gay couple. Sam becomes ill and goes to the hospital. He is under heavy medication and his parents come to the hospital. Sam's parents do not approve of Adam so Adam does not get to visit Sam and has no voice in what treatment Sam will get.
Marjorie marries Allen. Allen has two children from a previous relationship. Allen sells his house and they move into a house that they put in both of their names. Allen and Marjorie are in a car accident. Allen dies in the wreck and Marjorie dies the next week. Marjorie's child gets the entire house and Allen's children get nothing.
These are the kinds of problems that non-traditional families can face.
Often the do-it-yourself remedies that the parties put together do not work out.
The solution is that the partners should consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to map out how they want their estate to be handled in case of a break-up or illness or death.
The contents of this article are for information only and are 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. The U.S. Treasury Department requires us to advise you that any written tax advice cannot be used and is not intended to be used by any taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding any penalties that may be imposed under the Internal Revenue Code. Written advice from our firm relating to any Federal Tax matters may not, without our express written consent, be used in promoting, marketing or recommending any entity, investment plan or arrangement to any taxpayer.