Whether your first spouse passed away or your marriage ended in divorce, your children may have had strong opinions about your decision to remarry. A second marriage requires careful planning, especially if you already have substantial assets or are blending children from previous relationships. However, one plan often goes overlooked at times like this, and that is your estate plan.
The last thing you want after you pass away is for your children and spouse to become embroiled in a battle over your assets. Nevertheless, this happens more frequently when stepparents, particularly a stepmother is involved. Statistically, about half of the estate challenges probate courts hear are between the deceased's children and their stepmother.
Common sources of contention
It is seldom a matter of the evil stepmother of fairytales stealing the birthright of the child. Rather, it is often a question of who has rights to the estate. If you have not revisited your estate plan since you remarried, your loved ones may be at risk. Old and obsolete beneficiary designations may leave your children and spouse confused and hurt, which could result in them spending much of their inheritance in expensive legal challenges. Factors that increase the chances of a battle over your estate include the following:
- Your children never bonded with their stepmother or resolved any differences.
- Your children became estranged from you after you remarried.
- Your estate plan for the distribution of your assets heavily favors your spouse over your children or leaves your spouse managing the assets during probate.
- Your spouse is considerably younger than you are or you have only been married a short time.
- You have shown favoritism to your spouse's children, such as lending them money or giving them expensive gifts.
- You do not include your children in your plans for your final resting place or funeral preferences.
Of course, if your last days are marked with illness or dementia, your children may perceive your spouse as taking advantage of your vulnerable condition to improve the circumstances for herself and her children. This may include accusations of missing property or of undue influence over your estate plan and financial actions.
Creating a solid and relevant estate plan while you are still healthy and able to communicate is one way to avoid many of the potential issues of probate when stepparents are in the picture. You may discuss with your North Carolina attorney the best options for avoiding such contests and disputes.