Monday, March 9, 2009

The Wicked Step-Mom Rides Again

A third item should be added to the old saw of the only two things we can be sure of is death and taxes. We should add - "and problems with stepchildren" if there has been a mid-life new marriage!
  • Common sense dictates that everyone, whether married to the same sweetie you met in high school or happily forging a second or even third try at marital commitment, should execute a financial and health care power of attorney and living will before senility or an incapacitating illness take over your life. Tucson Attorney, Will Conway explained these terms, benefits and advantages of both, in a two part article some months ago.
  • Everyone should make every effort to convene a family meeting or use some other form of communication to make clear your intentions re disposition of assets and intentions regarding long-term care and/or extraordinary medical intervention.
  • Everyone should communicate to family and the loved one entrusted as the executor of your will your desires re what to do with your body once you die! It's not squeamish, morbid or in anyway indelicate to put in writing "I don't want to be buried, I want to be cremated" or some variation of the same. My kids know full well that I wish to be cremated and they know that they are to throw one heck of a party when they scatter my ashes.
  • It's even more important to do all of the above , if you have had more than one marriage and there are step-children involved.
I've been subjected recently to what can be kindly referred to as "harassment" by step-children four years after the death of their father. He and I did everything the right way. Once we realized that we had a viable business that was attracting the interest of buyers, we set about, with the guidance of an accountant and a legal specialist, creating an estate plan that included our last wills and testaments. Our attorney was exceptional, kind, patient and not adverse to gently pointing out where something we thought of doing might create problems. Working closely with him we put in place the documents that would be legally binding and support our intentions.

We married when we were both in our early fifties. There were children on both sides. Once our legal ducks so to speak were in order, we called a family gathering bringing in three of his children from afar (one lived in Arizona as did my children). In a congenial gathering, he and I took turns to speak of our intentions and the contents of our wills. We made very clear that it was our intent to take care of one another first and foremost and that upon the death of the final survivor, what was left, would be distributed amongst children of both marriages. Questions? there were some but we labored hard to make everything transparent and open.

I need to add here that I'm not some floozy who came along, saw a sitting duck and married for money. Quite the contrary, brilliant as he was in his profession, my dear late husband was a lousy business man and within weeks of our being married took his company into bankruptcy. We used my asets to dig out of the very deep hole and together, side by side, we built a successful company. We each had one offspring working in the business and when we finally sold, they were both well informed of the terms of sale and well compensated for their individual rolls in the growth of the business. And yet, four years on, my stepchild (speaking for siblings as is noted) is portraying me as the ultimate wicked step-mother and has made numerous allegations that with documentation and real fact checks, have proven to be completely false. The final claim was that they knew their father's intent was to, 'provide for his children', implying of course that I had thwarted that intent. This leads me to my final soapbox on this heavy subject.
  • Parents do NOT have any obligation to provide for able bodied adult children. Bequests are gifts and as such are optional! Rock on to all those couples I see in the RVs declaring that they are spending their children's inheritance but a correction - It is NOT their children's inheritance that they are spending. It is money they spent a life time working for and they deserve to spend it in anyway that they want to.
Another article in Connections For Women worth reading on matters of money and marriage, is by attorney Lisa Abrams on the subject of pre and post nuptial agreements.
We appear to be a society where we can speculate on style of underwear worn by presidential candidates and enjoy reality shows that make spectacles of marriage and commitment and yet we are so reluctant to talk about what is really important - death, money, incapacitating illness. Let's get real.

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