One thing that has stood out to me during my career is that guys are pathetic when it comes to living alone. Statistics show that a large percentage of men who lose their spouse will remarry within a year to a year and a half. I have seen it first hand and it doesn't seem to matter whether they are young or old, most guys just can't live alone. I can see all the ladies nodding their heads in agreement.
Since I am a guy, this hits home for me as well, and my conclusion is informed not only from statistics and first hand observance but also from thinking about it seriously for myself. Would I be able to come home to an empty home every day, cook for myself, go out by myself, attend children's and grandchildren's events by myself, live by myself? I don't even want to think about it, but in reality, there is a 50-50 chance I will outlive my wife.
So what do guys being pathetic have to do with the law? Well, it has a lot to do with what happens when your spouse dies and whether you have planned for that event or not. Most people do not have an estate plan or any plan that deals with the certainty of death. Without a plan, the default laws of the state you live in will control what happens to everything you own. So, lets look at a fictional case study based on a scenario we often see:
Joe and his wife Sally have been married for 35 years and have three children. Sally was diagnosed with an incurable disease and died two months later. Everything Joe and Sally had was owned jointly and Joe now controls all of the assets. A year after Sally's death, Beth showed up on the scene with a chicken pot pie. Beth had divorced her first husband and lost her second, leaving her with children from two different relationships.
What happened next? Remember - guys are pathetic. You guessed it: Joe marries Beth without a second thought. As soon as Joe said "I do" at the altar, Beth and her children had immediate legal claims to Joe's estate because of the default state laws. Joe didn't talk to his kids about it, his attorney, financial advisor or CPA. In short, he lost his mind and because of that, he didn't have a pre-marital agreement or any other plan for his children. It got worse. Joe figured that since married couples own everything jointly then that is the way it should be and he made Beth a joint owner on his real estate, investment and bank accounts. Then Joe died.
Beth and her children inherited everything that was jointly owned and Joe's children showed up in our office wondering what had happened. That is when we had to explain the simple principle that guys are pathetic.
Doing nothing didn't protect Joe’s children, or Joe, for that matter. If you want to avoid adverse results, you have to prepare a comprehensive plan that deals with principles like “GAP” and the default laws of your state. Make an appointment with a qualified attorney and ask them how to protect assets and avoid the unintentional disinheritance of your children.