This week I presented at a personal finance college class and a topic that always seems to engage the students is what I refer to as accidental disinheritance. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this come up in several instances, but the most common occurs in blended families.
Husband and Wife both had children before they were married. Because they’re married, they’ve set up all of their assets jointly or have their spouse as the beneficiary on their individual assets. This is normal for most families, but the outcome isn’t always as expected.
When Husband passes, everything passes to Wife as intended, but it’s when Wife passes, that the family realizes things weren’t set up as intended. When Wife received the assets, Wife did not include H’s children as beneficiaries or did not put down beneficiaries at all. In either situation the outcome is the same, Husband’s children are not included. According to Missouri law, a widow’s assets go to her children alone, step-children are not included in intestate law. So, Husband’s children don’t even have a legal right to challenge Wife’s estate unless they were included in her will. And even if they are in the will, if she listed her children as the only beneficiaries, the beneficiary designations control over the will.
I like to believe in these situations that if Wife were informed, she would do everything correctly and Husband’s family wouldn’t have need to call me. But, of course, I get the phone call after the fact, and Wife has passed accidentally disinheriting Husband’s family. Or in some situations, Husband and Wife have met with an attorney and have set up their plan, but because they don’t fully understand the mechanics of the documents things go wrong.
For this reason, it’s extremely important that clients understand their documents and how they work. Especially in blended families, where when things go wrong, accidental disinheritance can happen.