An estate plan is an important piece of planning that almost everyone needs. Your legacy is too important to leave open to uncertainty and allowing uncertainty to enter the picture when it comes to your estate can lead to stress, expense and perhaps the need for courtroom litigation. By getting a comprehensive plan, you can to do everything possible to minimize these risks and uncertainties.
If you've read much about estate planning, you know that just about everyone needs a plan. You may also know that certain groups of people have things in their lives that make planning especially important for them. A couple of these groups can include people with blended families and people with non-traditional relationships. Procrastination can often lead to problems, especially as you get older. A court case decided last year offers a clear illustration of these things and what can go wrong when you don't plan properly.
Richard's family situation, in some ways, was not unlike many others. As a young man, he had gone overseas and served in war. He came home, went to college and got married. He and his wife had two children, a son and a daughter. Eventually, he and his wife divorced. Sometime later, he married again and had three more children. He and his second wife also divorced.
In other ways, though, Richard's situation was not typical. Richard and his second wife eventually reconciled and resumed living together in the summer of 2012. They even discussed remarriage with the reverend of the church where they attended together, but they just never got around to setting a date.
Less than a week after the ceremony, Richard died. When he died, Richard had no estate plan. Richard's daughter by his first marriage opened a probate case file. She listed four heirs at law: herself, her brother and her two surviving half-siblings. The wife filed a motion in the case, asking the court to declare her to be Richard's surviving spouse and, as such, an heir.
The dispute went before an Assistant Clerk of Court, who ruled that, because the marriage wasn't legal, the wife wasn't an heir. The wife appealed to Superior Court, but lost again, as that court also ruled that she was merely an ex-spouse.
She took her case all the way to the Court of Appeals, where she finally won. While, under the laws of their state, the reverend committed a misdemeanor by performing the ceremony without the license, that didn't change the fact that the ceremony complied with all of the requirements of state law. The lack of the license didn't invalidate their marriage and the wife was legally na heir to her late husband's estate.
They key to take away from this is: an estate plan could have saved this family all of this time, stress and expense. With an estate plan, Richard could have clearly expressed his intentions for his legacy by stating exactly how much he wanted to leave for his wife, for his children and for everyone in his life. With a will or a living trust, you can leave your wealth to anyone you want… even an ex-spouse. If Richard had a valid estate plan, their marital status might not have been such an important legal issue, because the wife would have been entitled to receive her distribution under Richard's plan regardless of whether they were legally married or legally divorced.