Financial planning, estate litigation, and the second family

The April 27 Wall Street Journal contains an excellent article entitled Another Family? Keep the Money Straight. Second marriages often call for unique financial and estate planning techniques.  In my North Texas estate and trust litigation practice I have seen the second marriage circumstance lead to will contests.  As the article notes:

"When you have children with a prior marriage, you want to keep the harmony," Mr. Bouklas says. "I've seen too many situations where the spouse dies and the children who had a nice relationship with their stepparent end up at odds with them."

That means that amid the wedding planning, couples may want to take the time to sit down and do some estate planning.

"It's far more important for seniors than for a younger couple," says Martin Shenkman, an attorney in Teaneck, N.J.

Among the tools that could be most useful is a legal document that most people might think is only for the rich and famous: a prenuptial agreement. While prenuptial agreements are often used for defining who gets what in a divorce, they also can also set guidelines for what happens when one spouse dies.

Consider a simple scenario involving a couple who both have children from a previous marriage. The wife, in this example, has a will saying that all her assets should go to her children. So, when she dies, everything goes to her kids, right? Wrong.

Most states have laws dictating that irrespective of the will, a certain percentage of those assets must go to the spouse. That spouse could leave his assets to his children -- and the wife's children don't get what they were originally supposed to receive under her will. "You can end up with your hard-earned savings ending up with kids of your second spouse," says Bernard Krooks, a New York attorney.

Ambiguity in this context is quite likely to lead to probate litigation.  Planning described in the article may help avoid an estate fight.  But at times a will contest is unavoidable, particular where the children of the first marriage suspect the involvement of undue influence or that their parent lacked capacity.

A probate litigation attorney can evaluate if particular circumstances may support allegations of lack of testamentary capacity or undue influence.  Collin, Dallas, Grayson County will contest lawyers.