Law school teaches about estate planning and inheritance, but experience teaches about family dynamics, especially when it comes to the challenges of blended families with aging parents. Not recognizing the realities of stepsibling relationships can put an estate plan and family unity at risk, so it’s important to design the estate plan with those dynamics in mind.
Trouble often begins when one parent loses the ability to make decisions.
Here’s an example: a father develops dementia at age 86 and can no longer care for himself. His younger wife has become abusive and neglectful, so much so that she has to be removed from the home. The father has two children from a prior marriage and the wife has one from a first marriage. The step siblings have only met a few times, and do not know each other. The father’s trust listed all three children as successors, and the same for the healthcare directive. When the wife is removed from the home, the battle begins. But all of this can be avoided by taking these simple steps.
3 Steps to Encourage Family Unity
1. While parents are still competent, ask who they would want to take over if they became disabled and cannot manage their finances. If it’s multiple children and they don’t get along, address the issue to find other possible solutions. If those can’t be solved, create the necessary documents with an estate planning attorney to prevent those disagreeing children from causing problems.
2. Plan for the possibility that one or both parents may lose the ability to make decisions about money and health in the future. What do the kids think is fair; what do the parents think is fair? But remember, what the parents think is fair is what takes top priority even though they will take their children’s opinions into consideration.
3. If possible, meet with the attorney who created the estate plan to go over it with the kids. In this meeting, you should review all the legal documents so you have a complete understanding of what is going to happen in the case of incapacity or death. What are the directions in the trust, and who are the successor trustees? Who will have to take on these tasks, and how will they be accomplished?
The best way to avoid family infighting is to communicate openly and consistently with each other. That is the only way you can fight against the challenges coming with blended families.
Reference: Forbes (June 28, 2021) “Could Your Aging Parents’ Estate Plan Create A Nightmare For Step-Siblings?”