Divorce and second marriages present special challenges in estate planning. These challenges are common where the spouses have children from prior marriages. The emotions and people involved require a delicate balancing between the needs of the surviving spouse and those of natural children. The surviving spouse will want to insure a continuation of the lifestyle they enjoyed while both spouses were alive and children from a prior marriage may require support for education and maintenance until they are mature.
Multiple marriage spouses cannot afford to procrastinate or put off the issue for later. Some believe that the best approach to estate planning is to put everything into joint ownership with the new spouse and expect that person to be fair and honest. This rarely works; the messiest probate battles almost always involve step parents, step children and step siblings. Don’t be the person who left a legacy of hurt feelings and anger. Inheritance battles will permanently divide families. The feud between families can go on for a very long time because the expensive and emotionally draining probate litigation process can go on for years. If you love your family, don’t leave them to sort out your mess. With proper planning, the estates of multiple marriage spouses can be administered in an orderly, mature fashion, with provision made for all interested parties.
One convenient and effective solution is the Revocable Trust. In a Revocable Trust only the Grantor can amend the agreement. Upon the death, the Trust becomes irrevocable, since the only person who had the right to amend it is unable to do so. In order to ensure the welfare of the children of the prior marriage, each spouse’s Revocable Trust should be funded with that spouse’s separate assets. Separate assets funded in each spouse’s separate Revocable Living Trust, and subsequently maintained in that Trust during the course of the marriage, often remain separate in a subsequent divorce. The Grantor can name anyone they wish as Trustee to manage and distribute the trust assets. The trust will specify all the provisions necessary to ensure that the Grantor’s wishes are met. In contrast to a will there is no probate process and a trust will not be contested.
The needs and wishes of couples in second marriages vary widely, depending on the age of the spouses, their net worth, the length of their marriage, the age of their children, and their relative contributions to the marital estate. A heartfelt and mature conversation must take place to discuss what is best for the family. Consulting an experienced Estate Planning Attorney is a good starting point. The result of establishing the Trust is that the Grantor may provide for his or her surviving spouse, and be assured that the Grantor’s children will also be taken care of.