Emma: Inheritance & Remarriage

EmmaEmma was just 45 when her first husband died unexpectedly. He had no will and left Emma a modest savings account and three college-age children aged 18 to 25.

Two years later Emma met Charles, a recently divorced dentist with a fairly robust practice. But Charles’s divorce had been costly leaving him with little more than his practice and hefty child support payments to support his two children. Nevertheless, Emma and Charles soon married and decided to use Emma’s savings to buy a house.

They bought a fixer-upper in a highly desirable neighborhood and they both worked hard to expand the dental practice. By the time Emma died at age 70, she and Charles had accumulated over $3 million in total wealth- all treated as community property.

Because Emma never even considered creating a will, all of her community property passed to Charles. After the funeral, Charles assured Emma’s children that he would take care of them under his will as though they were his own. He promised to treat them on an equal basis with his own children from his first marriage.

Charles, now 76, surprised the family when he announced that he is remarrying his office manager, a striking 50-year old divorcee. He further informed them that he is drafting an estate plan that will leave all of his assets at death to a trust for the benefit of his ‘young’ wife. After his wife’s death, whatever is left in the trust will be distributed to his children, and nothing will be left to Emma’s children.

The characters in this story are fictional, but the circumstances and broken promises are very real. Surviving spouses move on after their first spouse’s death, often moving into additional marriages and stepchildren. Inheritances to children from first marriages are often reduced or disappear all together.

Had Emma consulted an attorney before marrying Charles, her children could have been protected in a trust established under her will. Such a trust can ensure that your assets support your spouse, but that they are not diverted to his or her new spouse or family.

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