Yours, Mine, Ours and Theirs Part 2: Opening the Conversation

Spring Flowers

Spring Flowers

This article from last June in The Huffington Post cites a Pew Research Center number from 2011 which states that a whopping 42% of American adults have a step relationship – as in step-parent, step- or half-sibling, or step-child.  I suspect the numbers have risen since that study….

It is not surprising that with the large number of remarriages involving children from a prior relationship, some of the basic priorities in estate planning can be much more fluid and complex.  In the title of this series I have added “theirs” at the end of “yours, mine and ours” – and this is for the simple reason that, in my experience, many spouses in a blended family relationship wish to preserve for their own descendants a certain portion of their estate.  In my experience with blended family estate planning, many spouses in blended family later life relationships consider their children’s inheritance as something separate in a way that few people married only to each other and with common children have ever done.  So let’s begin with identifying some of the terrain we will cover.

The Questions. . . .

What are the common goals that both spouses have in mind?

First off is the obvious question – how to provide for your adult children while taking care of your surviving spouse?  Considering things like life insurance, retirement benefits and other available resources can be immensely helpful, particularly when these resources are coordinated in such a way as to meet the common identified goals.  Since I represent primarily older adults with grown children, I won’t be looking at the second family and providing for them along with a spouse as well as from a first marriage?  How do we balance providing for children with providing for the surviving spouse?  Well, I must repeat that lawyer mantra here: it depends.  The fact is – there is no template for the values, choices, or goals of spouses in a blended family and how they provide for their respective children.  Yes, life is getting more complicated all the time it seems, but I would submit that with the exploration of some basic information, many otherwise inevitable conflicts can be avoided or at least minimized!  This is why it is so important to identify these questions that can loom large and cause much anxiety.

The Nature of Potential Conflict . . .

When a couple can identify the goals and values of their planning, developing a strategy for meeting them can become a bit simpler (note – I did not say easy – there is a huge difference between simple and easy!).  Identifying the source of conflict that can arise, which can threaten those values and goas the couple has identified, is a simple but powerful way of bringing more daylight into the conversation.  Talking about personality conflicts, communication styles and how to allocate scarce resources – be they common or separate resources, can have a positive impact on the planning process.  If this all sounds like a bit too much, I would submit that this groundwork laying is imperative and indeed makes for going early on in the process.  Perhaps you are familiar with the expression to go slow at the beginning to go fast later.  Reminds me of a favorite Ella Fitzgerald song!

The Varying Styles of Conflict Among People . . .

Important to consider here are some of the stumbling blocks that many of us place in front of this conversation, as well as those which may arise and otherwise derail a constructive and wanted conversation on this topic.  What I am talking about here is how each of us deals with conflict in terms of how we communicate in the midst of conflict.  There are five basic conflict communication styles:

  • Confrontation
  • Accommodation
  • Compromise
  • Conciliation
  • Avoidance

Many of us do not exclusively rely on a single style here, and that is a good thing!  What the conflict styles can teach us – and how this conversation can enrich and deepen a relationship among spouses – is about values (the first item I wrote about above) and how they shape who we are and how we behave.   Our perceptions and assumptions about who we are, who our spouse is and how the children of the blended family are included in the planning (either directly or indirectly) can be valuable ways to explore the depth of a relationship and chart a course through otherwise troubled waters.

I’m not saying that a plan is going to be 100% foolproof – I would not say that because everything is subject to change.  What I’m saying is that it is better to talk about the elephant in the room, to identify its function for shedding light on our goals and values of the spousal and family relationships we have.

More to come!

© 2016 Barbara Cashman  www.DenverElderLaw.org

Yours, Mine, Ours and Theirs: Estate Planning Challenges for Blended Families

denver elder law

Square in Assisi

 

This is the first of a series I will be writing about the modern challenge of estate planning for the “blended family” – with a particular focus on couples with adult children.  Today’s post will serve as an introduction and overview.

Yes, the days of the “Leave it to Beaver” style family are long gone.  So what has replaced it as the norm?  Well, not much of a norm at all really, which is why so many people pine for the good old days when things were so much simpler!   Let’s face it, we’re living longer and many of us are choosing to be married or coupled for love and not for life and many baby boomers have chosen different routes for their life partnerships than our parents.  There is simply no template or norm for these couples and their families looking into longevity planning, caregiving arrangements or estate planning priorities when it comes to the modern blended family.  This basic fact makes the whole effort just that much more daunting for most of us – but if we break it down into a conversation that has a beginning and a “to do” list based on the priorities identified in that conversation, efforts can be greatly simplified just by virtue of talking about the obvious, the gorilla in the room that demands our attention (or else).

The impetus for this series of blog posts began with a suggestion by one of my colleagues who organizes the Jefferson County Senior Law Day, at which I have spoken about durable powers of attorney and conservatorships for the last few years.  At this year’s event, scheduled for Saturday, June 4th, I have agreed to take on a new topic – on the challenges of longevity and estate planning in the context of the blended family.  (And yes, it’s the same weekend as the Larimer Square Chalk Art Festival.  I’m happy to be sponsoring the square by my artist cousin, Martin Calomino. . . .  I’m sure I’ll be posting some of the pictures from that festival to adorn my blog posts!)

I’ve posted on this general topic before, but I’m going to be looking into this in a much more in-depth manner.  I have looked into some internet resources for blended families with adult step-children.  I was surprised to find a number of good articles.  This article talks about the importance of identifying expectations when adult step children are part of a blended family.  When I work with a couple who have a “blended family” – there is a wide range of possibilities along the scale of what is considered blended.  Sometimes there are common family events in which the is frequent, regular or expected interaction among the adult step-siblings, while other times these opportunities to interact are few and far between.  Here is an article with some practical ideas about what a newly married couple did to ensure that the four adult children (two from both husband and wife) had the opportunity to feel like they were welcome in their parent’s home and included in family activities.  Here’s an interview style article that looks at a rocky start to a closely-knit blended family.

So, what exactly am I going to be writing about in this topical series of posts?

Here’s an overview of my next post:

Identifying Some of the Challenges for the Blended Family- including (1) what are the assumptions that govern a couple’s thinking about their relationship relative to the relationship with their children;  (2) the dangers of pretending that there is no potential for conflict; (3) starting up the conversation about the difficult questions and talking constructively about what will happen if and what will happen when; (4) getting familiar with what the challenges of longevity mean for couples in a blended family; and (5) the importance of estate planning to minimize conflict among members of a blended family.

In later posts, I will be looking at the different ways those challenges of getting started with the conversation and identifying values and priorities can be effectively met.  Rest assured, this is seldom a “once and for all” kind of arrangement – the importance of paying attention to changes in our lives and making the necessary adjustments cannot be overemphasized.  To that end, I will be looking at estate planning – both chosen and inadvertent, in the context of the freedom of testation (writing a will) and freedom from testation (the “plan” that most people choose, which means doing nothing and facing the consequences of the law of intestacy of your state of residency).  I will also be looking at identifying different kinds of property, both testate and intestate as well – in order to come up with a cohesive “big picture” estate plan.  And I will be revisiting the marital agreement and the usefulness of such an agreement to spell out many important details of a couple’s estate plan.

That’s all for now. . .

© 2016 Barbara Cashman  www.DenverElderLaw.org

 

Caregiving Arrangements and Elders: The Next Conversation We Need to Have

Youthful Exuberance

Youthful Exuberance

Death denial and youth glorification go hand in hand in our culture.  Today, I’ll look a bit more at some of the cost of denial in terms of aging and a loss in capacity for the majority of us.  I’ll start with some questions . . .  How many of us will voluntarily give up our car keys? How many will willingly concede to family or friends that we are having a difficult time managing our daily existence?  In my experience, the number is small.  It takes a combination of honest self-assessment, a well-developed self-awareness, a special types of candor, or just something catastrophic that “calls the question!”   For the former, I think of a cousin’s late father, just a few years older than my father (his cousin).  He was a retired physician and at one point detected some cognitive “slippage” which did not seem to be age-related.  He got himself to the doctor and shortly after getting his dementia diagnosis, updated his estate plan and moved to another state with his wife to live his remaining years close to one of his children.   His children no longer resided in the same state where they were raised.

Many of us would not be willing to make such a drastic change, perhaps because it doesn’t fit in with our idea of how our life in our elder years is “supposed to be” and doesn’t seem to fit with our idea of how we should “be independent” and not be a burden on loved ones.  But often the simple denial of the inevitable, along with the lack of planning and of stock-taking, means that we most certainly will be a burden on our loved ones.  I have joked with clients about this, that no client has ever informed me that they want to be a burden on their adult children . . . !

Of course there is also the financial piece of the planning.  Given the meager state of average retirement savings for many boomers and other elders, along with the hard reality that many retirees are just one health catastrophe away from bankruptcy, some folks take the “why bother?” approach as an excuse to do nothing.  Procrastination is, after all, an effective means by which to focus on what really matters – or at least what keeps us busy, which are seldom the same thing!

Okay, enough with the wisecracks. Death denial is only one side of the coin here so to speak, and on the other side is the youth glorification, its own form of denial of encroaching mortality.  In our present independence obsessed “aging in place” mantra muttering mainstream, we often fail to see the hidden costs of our independence and the burdens it often places on others.

Yes, I’m thinking of all the family (unpaid) caregivers.  The vast majority would not have it any other way most of the time, but the fact is that our longevity is getting longer and less financially certain all the time!  Couple that with the shrinking number of women (the ones who have tended to provide these services) who do not work outside the home who are available for such work) and it can cause some genuine concern.  More of us, particularly many of the divorced and single baby boomer cohort, will face much more interesting challenges with our often fractured and reconfigured family lives.  There is no “standard template” for a blended family relationship.

While I’m thinking of it, here’s a link to a recent US News & World Report article about family caregiving and how its future is changing.

Another aspect of the youth glorification beyond the self-loathing some elders feel is the denigration of the aged, the ideas that elders are no longer worthy because of their diminished capacity, usefulness or social or economic relevance.  This is when being an elder becomes a human rights issue!  Yes, I’ve blogged about the human rights of elder previously, but this is an evolving field.  I’ve recently learned about an organization called The Global Alliance for the Rights of Older People.  This organization is comprised of several international organizations as well as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) who work together to raise awareness of the threats and challenges elders face in different parts of the world and supports the creation of international human rights instruments as tools to strengthen the rights of older people.

So I will close with an observation which I believe is illustrated by a Carl Sandburg poem featured below.  Is it really too difficult to filter through the noise and the modern day disease of incessant busy-ness to talk about this?  What if we could consider the present importance of our relationships which sustain us in a long term “what if” scenario that went beyond the planning for our inevitable demise?  Would that change the way we are living right now?  I think it would.  I also think quieting the mind and considering the stillness is one means of opening the door to welcome those questions for contemplation and consideration.

The Answer, by Carl Sandburg

You have spoken the answer.
A child searches far sometimes
Into the red dust
                          On a dark rose leaf
And so you have gone far
                         For the answer is:
                                                 Silence.

 In the republic
Of the winking stars
                          and spent cataclysms
Sure we are it is off there the answer is hidden and folded over,
Sleeping in the sun, careless whether it is Sunday or any other day

       of the week,

Knowing silence will bring all one way or another.

Have we not seen
Purple of the pansy
                   out of the mulch
                   and mold
                   crawl
                   into a dusk
                   of velvet?
                   blur of yellow?
Almost we thought from nowhere but it was the silence,
                   the future,
                   working.

© Barbara E. Cashman 2016   www.DenverElderLaw.org

Estate Planning for Blended or Nontraditional Families

A blended family or nontraditional family is a family in which one or both of the adults have children from a previous marriage or relationship.  In case you’re thinking “I didn’t have an estate plan for my first marriage –why would I need one for the second one?”  you may be overlooking the” details” of your children or grandchildren or unfamiliar with how best to take care of your second spouse or partner!  If you have children from a previous marriage, you may want to determine how your second spouse or partner and your kids will divide your estate.  Longevity (incapacity) planning looks at how the decision-making responsibilities will be shared among the family members or loved ones involved.  Both the estate and longevity planning will depend on your age and circumstances, as well as how old your kids are, and you may consider whether there are educational expenses or grandkids you want to provide for, and so on.  This is an especially important discussion to have with your second spouse or partner so that the concerns, goals and techniques are clear going forward.  A blended family situation is more likely to be driven by different estate planning goals for husband and wife or  life partners, than in a marriage or partnership the first time around – when a couple may be younger and share more common goals and there is typically only one set of children.

This estate planning, like all others, starts with a discussion.  So – what are some of the benefits of blended families estate planning?

  • helps identify goals of each spouse or partner – who they want to support and for what purposes;
  • can bring clarity for who provides what kind of support for  whom;
  • takes into account any pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreements (these are known as “marital agreements” under Colorado law);
  • sheds light on financial and medical concerns and authority to make decisions in the event of incapacity or death.

If you are concerned about any of these issues and want to avoid a conflict-laden situation where  your surviving spouse or partner may be at odds with your kids or other family members, it is worth looking into making a plan.  A comprehensive estate plan will take into account your probate and nonprobate assets, the beneficiaries, and will also provide powers of attorney to provide for your welfare during short or long term disability or incapacity.  Read the CBA Estate Planning brochure

If you are looking to the future together and are realistic, making an estate plan can help cement expectations.  I liked this Ehow article on “How to Blend A Family,”  and no, it doesn’t involve a small kitchen appliance!

The term “blended families” doesn’t just apply to married couples – it can apply to unmarried couples as well, including a man and woman who could decide to marry each other if they chose to at a future date, or a same sex couple whose partnership may not be recognized as a marriage.  In Colorado, unmarried persons have the option of giving certain rights to another unmarried person through a Designated Beneficiaries Agreement. Find general information about Colorado Designated Beneficiaries Law here.

This agreement can provide benefits to the survivor of the two parties to a DBA, but does not provide disposition of property or confer rights for the second to die.  More information in my article here.

Okay, you may be interested in looking into this further, but maybe you don’t yet have a clear picture of what could happen if you (1) do nothing or (2) make assumptions without consulting the spouse or partner.  What are some things that could go wrong?

  • old wills and other plans are still in place that do not reflect current goals and concerns;
  • if you have minor children, outright gifts to them may be controlled by your former spouse;
  • picking a personal representative, guardian, trustee or co-trustee or other key people who do not get along with each other;
  • making your kids wait until the death of your surviving spouse or partner to inherit anything, which can fuel resentment;
  • failing to update beneficiary designations on nonprobate assets like retirement accounts, pay on death accounts, etc.  (these are not automatically changed as a result of divorce);
  • leaving everything to the surviving spouse or partner and assuming that he or she will “take care of” your kids; and
  • [this one is not unique to blended families]  leaving large amounts of money or property outright to someone who is not prepared to handle it – a/k/a the lottery effect.

If you are part of  a blended family and haven’t discussed with your spouse or partner what your wishes are, you may want to start that initial conversation – the first step to making plans.