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  1. STEP MOTHER VS. STEPCHILD

If you’re getting re-married and you have children from a first marriage, this is a big area of conflict.

Dad falls in love after getting divorced or Mom/first wife died. Dad gets remarried and his kids from the first marriage are adults. When dad dies, everyone gets to see what’s in the Trust. And some common scenarios include:

  • A mutual trust where dad ends up leaving ALL his assets to his wife (because she’s the surviving spouse and he predeceased her). This means Step mom controls the kingdom. OUCH.
  • Dad leaves money or assets for his children but Step Mom is the trustee so she controls the assets until her death. OUCH.
  1. SIBLING RIVALRY

If you have children that don’t get along and everyone is grown up, chances are, if you don’t deal with the reality of your children’s relationships, when you or your spouse die, they may fight over:

  • The interpretation of the Trust
  • The solutions in the Will
  • The kind of job the trustee is doing

When you combine the rivalry with grieving and add to it a mix of intense emotions and patterns of behaviors that have been unaddressed for decades and deceased, this is a volatile emulsion. This will likely end up in court with lawyers.

  1. UNDUE INFLUENCE- HOME HEALTH WORKER

If you were married or were financially independent. If you never had children and your spouse died. Or, your spouse died and you had children but your children have all grown up and are living in another time zone or another country or very far away with their own lives and families….then pay attention!

Maybe you start to forget things and have early stages of dementia. Maybe you start to need help cooking or cleaning or walking or showering.

What to do? Your family or you arrange to have a home health care worker come in and help you part time or full time. You grow to love this person. They help you with intimate parts of your life. They are patient, they care about you, and they treat you with love and care and respect.

First, they get the mail for you (so they can get control of your bills and see what your financial situation is), then they get you a separate phone so they can be available to you even when they are not working (so they can get you a new phone number to isolate you from other family members), then, they move into your house so they can take care of you or save money on in house help (exert influence on you by “loving” you every day and convince you of whatever they want without anyone to stop them). Your children don’t know because suddenly they aren’t really talking to you often or they talk to you but she’s always in the background. You don’t realize you are being controlled and manipulated.

In these types of situations, by the time the parent dies, they have changed their trust or will to be in favor of the this stranger, they have put the title to their house or assets in the name of this stranger, or any other type of dramatic change in behavior that would NEVER happen this stranger wasn’t preying on vulnerable mom or dad.

This usually starts to happen when you have already lost your spouse, you are older, you have to now take care of responsibilities that your spouse handled, and your other children don’t live with you or around the corner. And you grow to love your health care worker and consider them a friend and they know this and see this and do this to you slowly…

  1. UNDUE INFLUENCE- DEADBEAT KID

If you have children and one of them never really took responsibility for their lives (hint: it’s the child that never has money, asks you to finance their lives and always has excuses for everything) and the rest of them have grown up and left the nest, then when you get older, that kid may decide that they love you so much they need to care of you.

That could look like slowly getting totally involved in your life. The process of undue influence can start with getting the mail for you (so they can get control of your bills and see what your financial situation is), getting you on their cell phone plan so you don’t have to worry about it (so they can get you a new phone number to isolate you from other family members), moving into your house so they can take care of you or save money on in house help (exert influence on you by “loving” you every day and convince you of whatever they want without anyone to stop them).

In these types of situations, by the time the parent dies, they have changed their trust or will to be in favor of the this Deadbeat kid, they have put the title to their house or assets in the name of this Deadbeat kid, or any other type of dramatic change in behavior that would NEVER happen if Deadbeat kid wasn’t preying on vulnerable mom or dad.

This usually starts to happen when you have already lost your spouse, you are older, you have to now take care of responsibilities that your spouse handled, and your other children don’t live with you or around the corner. And you love Deadbeat kid and they do this to you slowly…

SOME SIMPLE WAYS TO AVOID THEM

SOLUTION 1

If you have gotten re-married or have children that don’t have the most ideal relationships, please do yourself a favor and have a family meeting when re-doing or updating your estate plan. Even though people treat their finances as more sacrosanct than their private lives in the bedroom, it’s absolutely essential that you disclose some of your financial life to your children in the presence of your attorney so you can AIR YOUR DIRTY LAUNDRY.

If you want to pretend that the conflicts don’t exist then just know that it may lead to lawsuits and irreparable damage to family relationships that reverberate into generations. If you are OK with that, then by all means, don’t deal with the issues. If you are NOT OK with that and you want to engage in behaviors that lead to an increased likelihood of a legacy that stays in tact where wealth actually ends up with heirs instead of lawyers for legal fees, then HAVE A FAMILY MEETING. We call it mediation because our estate planning attorney (me) is a trained mediator and social worker and once we determine the problems and issues in the relationships, we can build creative solutions into the trust.

SOLUTION 2

If you have a parent that is alone and older and vulnerable, you must commit to visiting them more often, checking on their welfare, staying a couple of days and really focus on them and every single aspect of their lives. Remember, they dropped their entire lives to birth you, take care of you when you were a baby and toddler. They stopped their careers, they had multiple sleepless nights and they paid a lot of money for baby food, toys, diapers, etc. They stressed about your first flu, rejoiced at your first tooth and were concerned about each and every little aspect of your life. Now do the same for them. The least you can do is make sure to take care of your parent.

Do NOT be afraid to follow your gut. Do NOT be afraid to contact their attorney and ask questions. Do NOT be afraid to pay for a second opinion from another attorney. Catch this type of behavior early and it can be avoided through your diligent focus on your loved one.

I got a call last week from a frantic man who started getting calls from credit card companies for all kinds of money owed by him and his partner.

His life partner died 3 weeks ago and always got the mail and paid the bills.

I cannot imagine what it feels like to lose the love of my life and before I have even a moment to grieve, the pressure of unknown creditors starts building and building and building.  AGGGHHHHH!!!  Can’t find accounts, no paper trails, no list of online accounts, and no passwords.

What a mess!

And to make the situation even worse, State and federal laws relating to digital assets make it against the law to have another person, not the account holder, get access to online accounts.

In English this means that you break the law if you are unprepared for this situation and you try to get access to your former loved one’s online accounts.

And think about how many accounts you have!

You BANK ONLINE!  checking, savings, certificates of deposits, brokerage accounts…

You pay your rent, mortgage, gas, electric, water, trash online.

You pay your credit cards, home equity loans, student loans, and other debt bills online.

You have Facebook and twitter and linked in and snap-chat and Instagram and Pinterest and lots of other social media accounts.

You probably buy house hold items or repeat items on amazon or eBay or target or Walmart online.

There is an easy solution to this.  Create an estate plan and include a plan for personal digital assets.  To start, you can visit my friend Russ and at a minimum get a digital asset authorization document.  Don’t forget to put it in a safe or a safe deposit box and also put a copy on a memory stick.

https://www.mylennium.com/digital-asset-authorization

21st century technology creates 21st century problems.  Let’s all catch up to the 21st century!

When I was younger, I used to pretend not to notice who my parents liked and didn’t like.
While most of my relatives that were on the “approved” list, there were a couple of relatives that were not.
That’s not to say they didn’t get invited to the Memorial Day barbecues but conversations afterwards were
in hushed tones and all very adult or even worse, no conversation at all. As an adult,
I realize that all families have their dynamics. This includes favored siblings, strained relationships,
and my personal favorite on the inter-generational tragedy list: an old disagreement that causes family members
to ignore each other for decades and sometimes take their grievance to the grave.
Sometimes if you ask them why they don’t speak, they cant even remember!!!

I know this sounds crazy but it happens A LOT in families.
When we ignore familial issues or pretend we don’t notice major patterns in unhealthy behaviors among our children or spouses,
when the grief of death hits them, so does the rage, anger, guilt, and/or fear. While part of my job is to look into a crystal ball and help people craft their future in writing, it seems quite predictable that if you spend the time and energy to create an estate plan but you ignore family drama that involves trustees or beneficiaries, then you are playing Russian roulette with your legacy.  Why do I say that…? When your family includes second marriages, dysfunction in part of the family, family members that have been married more than once, sibling rivalry, and addictions, then you are looking at an increase in likelihood of litigation. Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross introduced a model of five stages of grief and bereavement;  denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. If you combine the anger/fear/guilt/shame/depression that people experience after losing a loved one     add sibling rivalry/jealousy/mistrust/hatred/depression/ addiction then this formula has the potential to: = lawsuit filed in court because parties cannot work it out. To summarize Grief Family Drama=Increase in likelihood of ending up in court. Common situations that lead to court are:

1) Lawsuits over the wording in the trust or will,
2) Challenges over how valid the will or trust is,
3) Beneficiaries suing the trustee for not behaving according to the trust, etc. Solution: You can mitigate future damage and greatly increase the peace and unity of family members by taking the following three steps:
1) As you create your estate plan, address any family “drama” that  may affect parties in the future with your attorney.
2) Upon the advise of counsel,  have what our firm calls a “2 step family meeting” where we all meet, address the issues, and then work them out.
3) Work with your attorney to change or modify your trust draft if necessary to encapsulate creative solutions that will help lower the risk of a trust litigation.