Second (and even third and fourth) marriages following a divorce. Remarriage after the death of a spouse. Couples who live together without getting married so they can keep their deceased spouse’s Social Security or retirement income. Same-sex couples who cannot legally marry. We all know someone who falls into one of these “Modern Love” categories. What I’m referring to is any committed relationship other than a nuclear family represented by dad, mom, and their 2.3 children. No matter how these Modern Love Birds found one another or why they have chosen the living arrangement that they have, estate planning in Modern Love relationships is very important. The concerns may include such things as providing for your mate and also for children from a prior marriage, or providing for your care if you don’t have children. Then there’s always the problem of greedy in-laws who swoop in when one Modern Love spouse dies thinking they are just going to take everything.
Over the past several weeks, I have received a number of calls from clients who have Modern Love problems. Not the kind Dear Abby addresses in her column. These Modern Love problems go a little like this:
An older couple met and married late in life and both had enough money to be comfortable. Over the past 20 years, they put both of their names on some but not all of their assets. They each have grown children who get along, but don’t really know one another because they live all over the U.S. Now the couple is getting older and they can no longer manage their affairs. Who should be appointed to help them? If you pick just one child from one side of the family, the other side worries about their parent’s needs not being addressed. Do you choose someone from both sides of the family? And how do you ensure they are carrying out the wishes of the couple, not their own personal agenda? A tricky situation at best, and definitely time for a family meeting.
Another senior couple married over 10 years ago, and they are both over 70. In all of those years, they never revised their wills or trusts that were created long before they married. Here again, both have adult children, and in this instance they want to make sure that everything they have goes to their respective families.
Then the all-too-common story of the wealthy man failing in a nursing home and his estranged sister suddenly arrives on the scene and bilks the estate out of over $1.5 million while her brother is still alive. The patient isn’t in any shape to fight his sister, but his intended heir learned of the sister’s actions and is pursuing criminal charges against the sister, filing suit to establish a guardian over the patient, and filing suit to recover the embezzled monies from the estranged sister.
Unmarried couples are another special group. One couple just wants to live together the rest of their lives without getting married because they can each continue to receive retirement benefits through their deceased spouses. Another couple is in a same-sex relationship and cannot marry. Since the laws of the state do not provide for inheritance by a non-spouse, both of these couples need an estate plan leaving their assets to their mate as though they were married.
Other even more serious situations exist involving nasty in-laws who never come around until one Modern Love spouse dies. It may be a nephew, a sister, or even a child, and all they want is whatever they can get. If there’s no will or estate plan, the law may very well provide for them, leaving the surviving spouse to deal a hostile and sometimes tragic situation.
By today’s standards, all of these clients really live fairly common lives. So you see it doesn’t take much for an “uh-oh” situation to arise. If you are in Modern Love or you love someone who is, I encourage you to take these issues to heart.