It’s not uncommon for one spouse to pass away before the other, or for people to get divorced and remarried later in life. And while people willingly get bitten by the love bug, they often aren’t so willing to face the details that prior marriages sometimes leave behind.
“There’s a whole host of things that you may not have considered when it comes to second marriages and estate planning,” said Joe Covelli of Covelli Law Offices. “When a spouse dies or if there is a divorce, you need to review a number of things such as power of attorney, insurance policies, beneficiaries of 401k’s and IRAs, and investment accounts, as well as the terms of your Last Will and Testament (and any Trust that you have in place).”
Pennsylvania law specifically prohibits fully disinheriting a spouse – and thus great care must be exercised with respect to the subject of passing assets to the children of a prior marriage. What that means to the average person is that certain bequests made prior to a divorce or remarriage can remain in effect. For example, if you left an asset to your ex-spouse and you don’t change your will to leave it to your new spouse, the old estate plan may be honored and the asset may go to your ex-spouse, which may infringe upon your stated wishes. The issue gets even more complicated with the addition of stepchildren, or with blended families.
“Often, assets are commingled, and retitled into the names of the new spouses,” Covelli said. “You face a situation where, if one spouse dies, that spouse’s children and/or beneficiaries may not be protected – as a surviving spouse may have control of all the assets that have been commingled. Sometimes, the children don’t fully accept the new spouse, and may even disassociate themselves. In return, a parent may not wish to include them any longer in the estate plan, which is totally acceptable by law. It happens a lot can cause hurt feelings and legal turmoil. “However, there are ways that estate planning documents can be drafted to include provisions that address children from a previous marriage (or step-children).
Outside of physical and monetary assets, the power of attorney is the second most common document that people should check and update when a remarriage occurs. In most cases, spouses are the first grantee names in a power of attorney document. However, as people age, grown children are typically next in line for candidacy. A power of attorney can be abused if not handled responsibly. People have been known to use the power of attorney to benefit themselves. If a marriage ends in divorce, and the power of attorney remains in existence, this situation may constrict the ability and flexibility of the new spouse to access and manage assets.
Fortunately, with proper planning and legal guidance, your estate planning documents can be updated – to reflect your most current relationship. No matter how complex your family situation gets, you can make your final wishes binding.
Are you remarried? Are you uncertain about your estate plan? Schedule your free 30-minute Estate Planning initial consultation. At your consultation, Covelli Law Offices will advise you as to how your situation can be most beneficial for you.
For more information on Covelli Law Offices, go to www.covellilaw.com or call 412-653-5000. Covelli Law Offices is located at 357 Regis Avenue (across from the Pleasant Hills-West Mifflin Post Office).
***Article originally appeared in INCommunity Magazine.