Stepmothers v. Stepchildren: How Orlando Estate Planning Helps Avoid the Cliche Probate Battle

It’s a scenario so common, it’s something of a cultural cliche: Dad dies. Stepmother and stepchildren war over dad’s estate. Bitterness and animosity ensue.

Some disputes may be unavoidable. Often, however, an Orlando estate planning effort that is thorough and transparent can help avoid the surprises and misunderstandings that breed conflict snowballing into probate litigation.

This is going to be especially important in the coming years, given that:

  • 4 n 10 new marriages include at least one previously-married partner (so blended families are increasingly common, according to the PEW Research Center).
  • Life expectancy for men remains lower for men than women (researchers at Harvard Medical School note 57 percent of all people over 65 are female; by age 85, 67 percent are women). On average women live five years longer than men in the U.S., and are usually younger than the men they marry. Further, about one-third of folks over 85 suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, which can complicate estate planning and probate litigation.
  • The aging of the baby boomer generation means that by 2030, 61 million people will be between the ages of 66 and 84. Additionally, between 1950 and 2015, life expectancy in the U.S. has increased two months per year.

Given that the stepmother v. stepchild dynamic is not likely to wane anytime soon, families hoping stay out of probate litigation should consider consulting with an estate planning attorney in Orlando who can outline your options, ensure your intentions are clear and possibly help minimize familial infighting. 

Perhaps the biggest source of probate litigation in these scenarios is lopsided estate distribution, as outlined in an individual’s will. This can generate hard feelings or fuel long-existing rivalries. This is especially true when the marriage between decedent and widow was relatively short-term, and when there are alterations to the estate plans in a testator’s last days (typically altering beneficiaries). Sometimes these changes are perfectly legitimate and the testator is well within their right to make them. However, transparency while testator is still alive can often head off some of the disputes that might otherwise arise after death.

Some of the ways our Orlando estate planning attorneys can help include:

  • Writing a Revocable Living Trust. As noted by the Florida Bar, a revocable trust is a record created by you to manage your assets while you’re alive and to distribute those assets remaining after your death. The creator of the trust is the “grantor,” while the person responsible for management is the “trustee.” It’s “revocable” in that you can modify it or terminate in your lifetime, so long as you aren’t incapacitated. You can withdraw assets or funds from it at any point (which might help you avoid the need for a court-appointed guardian of property). Upon death, the trustee (or successor) will be responsible for paying all claims and taxes and then distributing assets to the beneficiaries as described in the trust agreement.
  • Naming Beneficiaries on Retirement, Bank Accounts. Even if you have clarified this in your last will, it’s important to make sure it’s made clear who is to benefit form your life insurance policies, pension plans, 401k plans, IRA accounts, stocks and bonds. It’s also a good idea to revisit this every few years or after any major life change, to make sure everything is up-to-date and that your beneficiary designations match your will.
  • Help with Arranging Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship. This is a good way to keep real estate out of probate. When property is jointly owned, it goes automatically to the surviving spouse or partner – even if you aren’t married. Transferring the title from one owner to another after death is fairly easy. However, the last surviving joint owner will need to implement another protection to help avoid probate.

Probate in Florida can be expensive, time-consuming and, in the case of stepmothers v. stepchildren, driven by long-simmering tension. Avoiding is usually desirable for all involved. Remarried parents of adult children should consider implementing a clear estate plan now – or revisiting those that are more than a few years old or predate your current marriage.

Contact the Orlando estate planning attorneys at The Chidolue Law Firm, serving Orlando and Lake Mary, by calling (407) 995-6567 or email us.

Additional Resources:

Stepmothers: The Cause Of So Many Estate Fights, Jan. 23, 2018,By Michael Hackard, Forbes.com

More Blog Entries:

REVISITING YOUR FLORIDA ESTATE PLANNING AFTER DIVORCE, April 29, 2018, Orlando Estate Planning Attorney Blog

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