We recently had a client inquire about challenging his stepmother’s will. Our first thought, and perhaps yours, was that the desire to challenge came from a history of animosity between the client and his stepparent, something we see all too frequently. However, in this case, the client was actually fond of his stepmother – that is, until she died with a will that left all of his father’s assets, including the family home, to her children.
Our client’s father (we’ll call him “Bill”) made a classic second marriage planning mistake: his only estate plan was a simple “I Love You” Will that left everything to his second wife, if she survived him, and then to his children. Bill’s intent, according to our client, was to take care of his wife first, and then his kids. His plan may have worked in a first marriage where Bill and his wife only had children with each other (but even then, only if the wife did not remarry before her death and had an identical will).
However, what actually happened is that when Bill died before his second wife, she received his assets with no strings attached. She could have made an estate plan that included Bill’s children as well as her own, but she was under no legal obligation to do so. Therefore, we had to advise our client that a will challenge would be fruitless because he and his siblings had no legal right to their family home or to any of the other property their stepmother received from their father.
We were truly sorry to have to deliver such bad news to our client. But what makes it worse is that Bill easily could have achieved his true objective of taking care of his wife for the rest of her life, and then leaving an inheritance for his children, with proper trust planning. Unfortunately, in second marriage situations, what an “I Love You” Will really says is: “I Don’t Care About My Kids.”