Leave a Legacy Not a Family Feud

Fighting over inheritance when “She ain’t your Momma.”

Sibling rivalry among stepchildren has the potential for creating kegs of dynamite and blowing up even the most reserved and well-families.  Adult children have expectations about how much they will inherit. Those expectations are often shattered when widowed parents remarry. Instead of siblings worried about being given less than their brother or sister, now they are worried that those who are not even related to them will somehow steal their inheritance.

In an ideal world, both parties would be independently wealthy and children could rest assured that they would get what they think is coming to them, but when a spouse has the responsibility to care for one who is sick or in need of long term care, they often sit and watch their inheritance dwindle. I’ve seen children convince their 80 or 90 year old parents not to marry or to divorce- not for any reason than to protect their inheritance from being diluted from the needs of another elderly person or the mere thought that they might have to share what they thought was coming to them with strangers.

If making plans for your estate, your first responsibility should be to your spouse and to make sure that they will have enough to live on if you die first. In Florida the state law does not allow a person to exclude the spouse (although children and stepchildren are fair game). To make sure that there are no hard feelings with your adult stepchildren, make sure a nominal amount is distributed to them. If there are good relationships, make sure that children and stepchildren are treated the same.

Another source of conflict is the division of personal property. First family heirlooms might be claimed by second family children leading to lawsuits. Sign a personal property list indicating what personal property- jewelry, artwork. to go to whom

If you leave everything to your spouse, you can’t be sure your natural children will ever inherit money. (they probably remember that behaviors that made their life hell). The ties between parents and stepchildren fray even more than ever.  Your spouse’s children will say why – they haven’t bothered to call or even come to see him or her for ten years. Why leave them with anything.

To preserve inheritances, leave money for children in trust, testamentary trust that is within a will still leave income for spouse for life.

If you’re an adult child and haven’t had a conversation with your parent in a while and still think you’re going to get a gift when they die, think again.

If you would like a free family assessment for assuring that your estate planning, real estate, long term care, and death directives are in place, call Attorney Linda Carley at 386-281-3340. Linda Carley has more than thirty years of legal experience, including serving as a probate judge.