The more time I spend estate planning the more I am clear that it is indeed all about relationships. I often state that the only people who don’t need an estate plan is the one who doesn’t care about anyone nor is cared about by anyone.
Let’s start with the simple premise that there will be confusion naturally in a situation if there is illness or death. I have two adult children who I have no doubt love me dearly. However, if they had to make decisions regarding my end-of-life care, the probability is great that they would make very different decisions. I believe my son and daughter would be on polar opposites of the decision making pendulum regarding maintaining my life through artificial means or letting nature take its course. Without that clarity from me, I believe that each child would be left feeling great animosity toward his or her sibling. I could possibly destroy their relationship because I didn’t plan. I love my children and want them to find comfort and solace with each other. I need to take steps to protect that relationship in addition to protecting my personal desires.
Statistics show that cohabitation is up compared to marriage. While some states allow for benefits with common-law marriage, home sharing does not common-law marriage or domestic partnership make. Often the loved one with whom life is shared as a partner does not have legal title to the shared home or the assets that are created together. If there is no planning, there is no protection from the laws of intestacy, which is the law that is in place for people who pass away without a will. There are very specific rules about passing assets.
The relationship burden is real and challenging. I am also sitting with members of blended families. In this era there are many people who come to a marriage with children. There is a desire to create a oneness in the family but the law still sees that the distinction with biological families as opposed to “step” children. In my family, my father’s mother was married and had three children. Her husband passed away and she then married my grandfather. Together they had 13 additional children. My grandmother predeceased my grandfather. The assets that my grandmother held with my grandfather passed to my grandfather. When he passed away, the assets that he had were passed to his biological children. I know that my aunts and uncles were not perceived as “step” or “half” children, but the law does not recognize the relationship of a stepchild. Blended families require specific instructions to insure that the relationships are preserved when estate planning. In a time when many families have complicated structures we need to take the extra step to make sure that our intentions will protect and transfer wealth in way in which we had planned.
As we think about planning for our loved ones we must take the time to be mindful of the relationship that we have with the loved one. There are circumstances when we have adopted a person as a child. In the Black community, we often take in people who are connected to us by blood or by love. We treat them as our family but there is indeed no legal relationship. Many of us know of families where the grandparent raises the child’s children but don’t take steps to legally adopt. If there is no estate planning the grandchildren would not receive an inheritance if the child was still alive. This could potentially be a problem if there was a reason such as substance abuse that required the grandparent to take physical custody of the grandchildren.
Caring for the relationship requires caring and planning beyond today. Show you care by making the plans necessary to create, protect and transfer the wealth.