In Mississippi, there are a lot of old laws on the books. Much of our state law comes from centuries-old English common law. More modern sections were drafted decades ago. Though amendments are made from time to time, the law has failed to keep pace with certain changes.
One area where this is clear is estate planning. The laws were written as if everyone gets married at 18, stays married for 50 years, and raises perfect children who would never fight with one another over an inheritance. Not everyone lived this sort of life when the current estate planning laws were crafted, and they certainly don’t now.
One of the things that isn’t addressed in our current laws is how to fairly distribute the assets of someone who created a blended family with a partner who may or may not have already had children of their own. The law of the books treats blood children and step children differently, and can pit the surviving spouse against the rest of the family.
Rather than risking a family feud, many Brandon, Mississippi residents with blended families choose to create custom estate plans that ensure their end of life wishes are respected and certain family members are not treated unfairly. In this blog post, we will go over 4 issues the Palmer & Slay team discusses with these clients.
1. The Default Rules Could Leave Your Kids in a Lurch
If you die intestate — which is the legal word for without a will — your assets will pass to your next of kin. They can then choose to do whatever they wish with those funds. This often creates problems in blended families.
Imagine how upset your step-children (who you otherwise treat like your own children) would be to see their siblings inherit something while they get nothing. Or consider a scenario where your adult children see a share of your estate pass to your current spouse (who they never really liked!). Letting state law decide who your heirs are can create all kinds of trouble.
2. A Will Won’t Work as Well as You may Wish
Drafting a will is an essential part of the estate planning process, but it alone might not serve your family well.
Consider what could happen if your will leaves your entire estate to your current spouse. He or she would be under no obligation to share your estate with the children you had with a previous partner. He or she could also get remarried and end up passing the proceeds of your estate on to that person.
These problems can be solved by creating a trust that benefits your current spouse now and your children later. You could also draft a plan that distributes some assets to your adult children now so they aren’t counting the days until their step-parent dies.
3. Speaking of Remarriage
If you would not be happy if your surviving spouse remarries and shares your estate with his or her new partner, you should draft an estate plan that takes remarriage into consideration.
The law does not allow you to draft a will that says everything goes to your spouse unless they remarry. But you could set up a trust that benefits your spouse, but is not controlled by them, so the assets are used in a way you approve of.
4. Who Will Make Healthcare Decisions for You?
One of the most important parts of an estate plan is a living will and healthcare power of attorney. These documents give another person the legal ability to make decisions on your behalf if you ever become incapacitated, and give that person and your healthcare providers some insight into your wishes on end of life care.
Putting these documents into place now means your children and your partner will know who you want making decisions on your behalf. It may prevent these people you love from fighting with one another during what will be an already difficult time for them.
Preserving Your Wealth. Protecting Your Loved Ones.
No matter what your family life looks like, you can protect your loved ones by crafting a custom estate plan. Please contact Palmer & Slay’s experienced team of estate planning attorneys to get started.