The Harris Law Firm has been serving our divorce and family law clients for nearly 30 years, providing excellent and valuable advice to those in need. Very recently, we expanded our legal services to also offer estate planning service to new and existing clients. There is significant overlap in the legal areas of divorce and estate planning, and we often are asked about the legal inheritance consequences of second marriages: when an ex-spouse remarries and has children with a new spouse, what happens to the inheritance rights of the ‘first-family’ children?
It is not hard to find this situation played out in real-life stories: Wealthy families fighting over the inheritance of a patriarch or matriarch who had children with more than one spouse, for example. But this scene can play out in many ways in families, regardless of their financial or celebrity status. In truth, the reality is that many marriages with children end in divorce, and parents often remarry, with children then being raised in blended families. Sometimes the new step-parent even has children of their own. Step-children, step-siblings, and step-grandchildren have become the norm.
With blended families, new practicalities of combining children, parents, grandchildren and other relevant family members into a new unit, becomes crucial to the healthy integration and success of the newly blended families. Newly divorced parents now share parenting time, child support responsibilities, school decisions, and holidays with their former spouse, and newly divorced parents must work towards establishing a new normal in which their children can be supported, loved, and thrive.
But legally speaking, what happens when divorced parents remarry? First, there is a new legal contract: there are new spouses with new legal rights to marriage privileges such as inheritance, agency (or caretaking and decision-making) in the event of incapacity, and potential financial control. In Colorado, your spouse is entitled to inherit from you, even if you attempt to disinherit them in a legal document such as a will or trust. It is the right of Spousal Elective Share and can be enforced in court.
The consequences of a second (or subsequent marriage) can be inconsequential and not dire: families blend, money, homes, and assets are merged and a new and hopefully, successful family unit is created. But what happens if any significant wealth of one spouse is brought into the equation? For example, Jane comes from a wealthy family and her father left her well off. Jane is divorced from Frank, and they had 3 children together, Joe, Mary and Tony. Jane remarries Harry. Harry also has 3 children from his former marriage. Joe, Mary and Tony are rightfully concerned that Harry (and thus his children) could inherit all of Jane’s wealth, leaving them with nothing. Jane will need to create a sound estate plan to prevent her children from receiving nothing if she were to die before Harry. Smart planning can help Jane’s family wealth stay in her biological family and provide inheritances to her father’s grandchildren, Joe, Mary and Tony and even to their children. Jane can also provide support for Harry during the remainder of his lifetime (via a spousal support trust), and can leave her inheritance to whom she wants, in this case, her biological children.
The Harris Law Firm can help you with your estate planning needs and can provide solid advice and legal services to help you preserve your family’s wealth after divorce and remarriage. Reach out and we’ll be there for you!