BLENDED FAMILIES AND THEIR ESTATES
By Jack D. Sterling, Attorney at Looney & Conrad
Today marriages end in divorce as often as the parties stay together for life. The unfortunate consequence of this set of circumstances is that not only are the husband and wife separated, but so are any children of the marriage.
Children of a broken home suffer right along with the parents, not to mention the extended families. It creates peculiar sets of problems for all involved. Without examining those myriad scenarios, let us focus on the most common set of problems to arise.
Usually divorces occur when the parties are still somewhat young, as are the children. It only stands to reason that, after the divorce, one or both of the parents will eventually meet and fall in love with someone else. In many cases that person will also be divorced and will likely have children as well. Marriage soon follows and a blended family is born. Therein lies the problem.
Foremost is the fact that the new family must find ways to blend together without creating animosity or conflict, not only within the new family structure, but with the extended family of the ex-spouse. They are still related and imbued with certain rights, both legal and moral.
Without going into the many problems that can arise between disparate parties within the protracted family, let’s assume that all parties get along and live happily ever after. It’s not a fairy tale. It happens more often than not.
What usually doesn’t happen, though, is that the new family unit, as amiable and loving as it might be, often fails to consider the consequences of what to do with the estates of the step-parents when one of them suddenly dies.
Let us assume that the stepfather dies as the result of a traffic accident. Not only did he love his wife, but he also loved his stepchildren as well. He had a will from his previous marriage, yet never revoked his previous will or made a new one. His previous wife and the two children of that marriage were provided for under the terms of the will. Such a scenario could result in a horribly inequitable situation for his second wife and his stepchildren, or worse and children they might have had together. Most wills would provide for any unborn children he might have upon executing the will, but that would only leave some of his estate to his children born of the second marriage.
Consider the scenario in which the stepfather never had a will. Property divisions at the time of the divorce would have given his first wife all that she was entitled to baring unusual circumstances, but we will assume there are none. The State of Texas provides specific guidelines for how the estate is divided up when someone dies intestate (without a will).
Since Texas is a community property state, his wife, at the time of his death, would receive half of the community estate. His natural born children, from both his first and second marriages, would inherent equally the other half of the community estate. His stepchildren would receive nothing.
The solution is obvious. Anytime that an individual’s personal circumstances change dramatically, such as a divorce or marriage, whether a first, second or fifth, that person should as soon as is practical, contact an attorney and execute a will. Such an action will prevent almost all of the heart breaking scenarios like the one described above, allowing that individual to dispose of his or her assets as they see fit. It also allows for the establishment of guardianship for any minor children, if any, that exist at the time of death. It is both wise and practical.