Hard Questions Make Strong Foundations: Estate Planning and Second Marriages

The day my wife and I finally met with our estate planning attorney, Don Owen, was anticlimactic. We sat across from him, my wife Janet to my left, Don sitting on the other side of his desk. We were there to resolve what we then realized were thornier issues than what we had imagined when we began the process, issues that most families don’t face–because most families aren’t blended families.

Very wealthy couples deal with estate planning issues most of us can only imagine. Business owners whose companies make up the bulk of their net worth likewise confront estate planning problems foreign to those who work for someone else. Add to that list, couples who head up blended families. In fact, maybe put them at the top of the list. Courageous, often twitterpated, souls, these couples enter into second marriages and all the responsibilities that entails and deal with some thorny problems. Often, many of those problems first make their appearance years down the road. For my wife and me, they made their appearance when we decided to do some estate planning six years after we married and joined my three and her four children together.

The idea to do some estate planning was mine. I stood to inherit some money from my grandfather’s estate. He’d worked hard and invested well, and he’d set up his estate to benefit his children first, then his grandchildren when his children died. His children were now in their late 80s and 90s. I wanted to make sure that when they died, and after both my wife and I died, my share of my grandfather’s estate would pass on to my children–his great-great grandchildren. I wanted to keep the Taggart family money in the Taggart family. My wife was fine with that. And so I set up an appointment with DonHermanWeissFamily600 to get that done. This should be easy, I thought. Silly me.

Facing the Facts. For couples in second marriages, estate planning can be difficult, more complex. Think about it: Each party comes into the marriage with their own assets; their own debts; and often, their own children–sons and daughters who have their own special needs, often known only to their biological parent. Add an “ours” to the mix of yours and mine, and the family photo quickly goes out of focus.

Frequently, at least one but probably both of the step-parents have made promises to their own children, promises that often involve dollars and cents. Maybe one parent made a promise to pay for college or for a car when his child graduates high school. Maybe the other guaranteed a trip to Europe if her  young son or daughter graduated college.

All too often such promises were made in the heat of the battle in the previous marriage. No matter, already feeling guilty about a failed marriage, the parent making the promise will not drop this ball. Not this time. His or her promises, wise or unwise, will be kept. No more disappointed children. Nope.

And so it is when the newly married couple finally decides they should do some estate planning. So it was when my wife and I  sat down with Don Owen to make sure that promises we had made were kept–to each other and to our children.

Like I said, the experience was more intimate than sex.

Why? you ask. Well, try this list of issues on for  size. One or both of us had:

  1. Made promises to our children.
  2. Made promises to each other leading up to marriage.
  3. Insecurities created or exacerbated by the previous marriage and not yet fully healed by the second.
  4. Secrets that had yet to be discussed with the the other.
  5. Allegiances that were at the time stronger to blood than to water.
  6. More insecurities, as in, will this marriage last?
  7. Age, maturity, and wisdom not present the first time around, thus a willingness and ability–and need–to look beyond the unicorns of true love and ask the hard questions.
  8. Etc.

Now this list isn’t particular to my wife and me. I suspect most anyone in a second marriage can see at least some of themselves in it. The point is, parents in blended families face lots of issues that in-tact families typically don’t. But that’s only part of the story, the hard part. But can I tell you, what I had anticipated would be a cake walk–at least I did after my wife said she was fine with what I wanted to do with my inheritance from my grandfather–turned out to be a slog. Not because my wife was hard to deal with. She wasn’t. In fact, she was a gem. No, it was a slog because the issues grew more complicated the deeper we probed, one question leading to another and then another. When we got to the end of the slog, I was amazed, both at what an experience it had been and at how refreshing it was to have done it.

Reaping the Benefits. It gets better. If the planning is hard and the issues complex, the aftermath is long lasting and satisfying. With each hard question asked and answered, a stronger bond forms between husband and wife. As each secret is revealed, trust and respect grows. In the end, the new marriage stands on a more firm foundation. I know ours did.

I don’t have any statistics to support the following claim, but I have to believe that good, thorough estate planning will strengthen the marriage of the man and woman who blend their families. It did ours. It can do the same to yours.

 

 

 

 

 

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