The most common estate battles occur due to the increasing role of blended families within our community. Examples of famous estate battles are only evidence to support why estate planning is so important. But you don’t need to be famous for your blended family to end up in court. We commonly see estate battles among families who were shocked to discover that those left behind haven’t prepared their estate planning wisely.
R&B legend Teddy Pendergrass died from cancer in 2010, after surviving a car crash in 1982 which left him a quadriplegic. His son and second wife immediately became involved in a bitter dispute over his estate. The existing will, which left everything to his second wife, was contested upon his son producing a will supposedly signed in 2009 which names him as executor and beneficiary of the will.
During the trial, the judge heard testimony from one of Teddy Pendergrass’s carers that he’d confided in him that he wanted his wife to have his estate, and that his children were to get nothing. Questions also arose as to whether Pendergrass could have signed a new will, given his limited motor skills. The caregiver also said that Pendergrass wanted his children to work for their money, rather than be given it.
The estate battle not only revolved around the assets owned by Pendergrass, but his ongoing legacy and control of the rights to his music. Ultimately, the judge ruled that the will produced by Pendergrass’s son was ‘fraudulent’ and that his testimony was wholly lacking in credibility. The final ruling gave the estate to Pendergrass’s second wife.
In a similar scenario in Spain, The Duchess of Alba, worth a reported $5 billion, died and left her ‘toyboy’ spouse nothing. Her husband, who was 20 years younger, had signed a pre-nuptial agreement prior to their 2011 wedding amid concerns from the Duchess’s six children that he was more interested in her money. The six children now stand to inherit a palace each and will share the remainder of the $5 billion estate.
Lack of Assets
This situation doesn’t just happen to celebrities or the rich – this is an incredibly common scenario. Estate battles between children from a first relationship and a second spouse happen with increasing regularity, no matter if your assets aren’t significant. Often the children from the first relationship have a legitimate concern: if their natural parent were to die, would their step-parent cut them out of the family assets? In an age of multiple long term relationships and blended families, this tricky scenario often ends up in court.
Avoiding Estate Battles
Careful and flexible estate planning is the only way to avoid a costly estate battle. A specialist in estate planning can preempt these what-if scenarios and make plans to avoid a dispute. The other thing to keep in mind that once the court is asked to make a ruling on an estate battle, the results may be unpredictable and not in accordance with your wishes.
Tips for Blended Families
As specialists in wills and estates, we encourage those in blended families to make a discretionary testamentary trust. In doing this, you can set aside assets to be held in the trust. You can name a trusted person (or persons or even a company) as a trustee and name the children as beneficiaries. This helps ensure that your children will receive part of your estate when you pass away, regardless of whether you have remarried or not.
After you get divorced, you should create a new will straight away to ensure that your estate doesn’t go to your estranged spouse. Once you re-marry or enter a de-facto relationship, you should create a new will. A good rule of thumb to follow is to update your will every time something significant happens, or every three years. Keep your loved ones updated when you create or update your will, so that there are no nasty surprises for your family members.
Once you end or start a new relationship, you can create a Financial Agreement. This agreement will clearly state how the assets of each partner will be distributed once one passes away or the relationship breaks down. This can be very beneficial as you may wish to consider your children and ensure they receive part of your estate.
Sometimes a couple may do Wills that mirror one another. There is no agreement between the two of them. It just so happens that they are identical Wills. Sometimes people for a whole range of reasons enter into agreements where they agree that they will do Wills in a certain format and that they will not revoke those Wills without agreement. That is the essence of an Agreements for Mutual Wills. An Agreement for Mutual Wills goes a long way to helping protect and preserve an agreement that people enter into and to make sure the children of the first person to die have legal rights to be provided for.
Estate planning for blended families can be difficult, however, if you need any legal advice, feel free to contact Mitchell’s Solicitors. We offer a free 10 minute phone consultation and are always happy to provide advice and legal aid.