Your question touches on a very real and present danger whenever you form a "blended family" in this "Modern Family" era.
The unforeseen legal consequences lurking behind every second or even third marriage can (and do) upset a family's estate planning apple cart, leaving behind disenfranchised and bitter heirs.
This is the warning to the wise in an On Wall Street article titled “Estate planning mishaps: How even the family bible is at stake.”
So, what is an example of a commonly encountered conflict?
Who gets the personal belongings of a deceased parent? After all, how do you prove "title" to personal property which has no "title" by definition?
While your father can "say" the sword should go to you as his eldest child, it can be difficult to prove actual ownership of the sword (especially after your father dies and your stepmother changes the locks on the home they shared).
And what if your stepmother dies a week after your father?
Think you will have fun going through the household contents with your stepsiblings sorting out what is yours and theirs from the personal belongings left behind?
I think not.
Expect your stepsiblings to claim their mother inherited all of the personal property in the house when your father passed.
In fact, do not be surprised when your "family" civil war sword shows up on eBay.
Contrary to popular belief, possession is often 10/10ths of the law, not 9/10ths.
Did your father and his then-fiancé sign a premarital agreement before exchanging vows?
This negotiated agreement can set the terms on everything from what happens to each party's assets upon divorce or death.
Retirement funds deserve special attention, however, because rights to ERISA retirement plans (e.g., 401k and profit-sharing) can only be "waived" by a "spouse" to be effective. While your father is yet living, now might be a perfect time to consider a "post-marital agreement" to address issues of mutual concern.
Be mindful when it comes to how state laws can impact inheritances, too.
There are some states that would allow your stepmother to continue living in the home shared with your deceased father. As a result, you may be waiting for some time before receiving your inheritance.
Note to file. This can create an awkward situation if a significant amount your father's wealth is tied up in that very home ... and your stepmother's age is relatively close to your own.
This has been a 30,000 foot look at a few of the landmines created whenever a blended family is formed.
An experienced estate planning attorney can help avoid them.
Having a comprehensive estate plan coordinated with a binding premarital agreement are essential.
Remember: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When making your financial, tax and estate plans, do not go it alone. Be sure to engage competent professional counsel.
For more information about estate planning in Overland Park, KS (and throughout the rest of Kansas and Missouri), visit our estate planning website and be sure to subscribe to our complimentary estate planning e-newsletter while you are there.
Reference: On Wall Street (Sept. 14, 2016) “Estate planning mishaps: How even the family bible is at stake”