When you create an estate plan with your spouse, you may have the same goals and dreams for your family, but how do you know those wishes will be honored? Did you know that, in most cases, your joint estate plan can be changed by your surviving spouse after you die?
While true in all states, this concerning reality is illustrated in a recent Oklahoma case: Stratton v. Stephens. In this case, the husband and wife built a life together, bringing nine children into the world. Eventually, they decided to create a trust, leaving everything to their nine children equally. Soon after the trust was created, the husband passed away, leaving the wife free to change the rules as she wished. Sure enough, she amended the trust and disinherited one of her nine children.
Did the husband have a say in this decision? No.
Is this what he had planned for? No.
Is this what he would have wanted? Probably not.
The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals reviewed the case and decided that the wife’s amendment was perfectly legal. The court cited Oklahoma statutes and concluded that all trusts are revocable by the creators of the trust unless expressly made irrevocable by the terms of the trust.
Unless your attorney drafts protective language into your trust to prevent this from happening, your surviving spouse can completely unravel the plan you created together.
All families are at risk of this happening to them, but blended families are especially vulnerable to these situations.
A great example of this would be the television show The Brady Bunch. In the show, married couple Mike and Carol, each have children of their own, but do not have children together.
If Mike were to pass away first, how might Carol change their plan?
What if Mike’s children slowly become distant from Carol as they age, or move in with a different family member?
Are they still on equal footing with Carol’s children for their inheritance or is someone excluded?
Although this sunny family sitcom portrays harmonious relations, reality can prove to be much different.
The frightening truth is that, without proper planning, your estate plan may ultimately be determined by which spouse passes first. This uncertainty leaves a lack of security for your children.
Thankfully, there is something you can do about it. The attorneys at Evans & Davis are here to help walk you through your options in establishing protective measures that work best for you and your family. Call us at (866) 708-2335.