Step-Family Estate Planning

Double the In-laws, Double the Fun;

An Introduction to the Art of Step-Family Estate Planning

I’ve been the proud patriarch of a step-family for over seven years.  I would not have spent the last 85

months any other way, but it is amazing how fast these 371 weeks have flown by.  Most of our 2600 days have been tremendously rewarding and fun. However, not all of the 62,401 hours have been entirely enjoyable. In fact, some of the 3,744,080 or so minutes were even a chore.  Worse yet, at least several of the over 224,644,803 seconds were explosive and could have destroyed our precious and delicate step-family balance in an instant. Fortunately, through the grace of God and our stubborn German perseverance, we have survived and have even thrived in many areas.

San Francisico Trolley PictureWe thrive most often when we are in our neat little family bubble.  Case in point, in June of 2014, all eight of us (6 kids aged 4-17 along with their 2 captors) traveled in a single van for nearly 6000 miles through 15 states over the course of 16 days and 15 nights, and, yet, no one died or went to the hospital or prison.   I personally clocked over 90 hours behind the wheel, and my beautiful wife clocked in about 20 minutes at the helm one evening when my first IPA was so good that I didn’t realize the second IPA would not be the appropriate precursor to piloting the Big Blue Bomber (our 2009 Ford E-150 non-armored personnel carrier) back to the base.  We knew this was our one shot at traveling together as a family, and we took it so we could show our kids as much of this great country as we could.  It is an odyssey and adventure that I know we all will treasure having done (and possibly never having to do again in equal portions).

My wife and I spent a lot of time planning this trip. Our destinations were carefully selected to ensure there was something for everyone to enjoy each day.  Our team was carefully analyzed for potential pressure points and a framework of rules was set-up to minimize catastrophe. Specifically, we developed and employed liberal rules surrounding the use of Febreze, rest-stops, screen time, and snacks, all of which combined to take the edge off tensions as they arose in our bubble.  Our objects stayed in motion because they were not acted on by an outside force. It worked so well, we even got to see a case study in Stockholm Syndrome when the teenagers started showing compassion for us as their captors by joyfully and voluntarily helping with the younger kids.

Kids are Not HappyIt is not all rainbows and gelato in the Eyestone-Millett household, however. When our bubble is exposed to the outside world, things get more difficult.  The best example of the pressures faced by step-families is the fact that they all have about double the in-laws of your run of the mill nuclear family (DISCLAIMER:  All in-laws in this writing are purely fictional. Any similarity between the examples herein and any real or fictional in-laws, including, those who may be living, deceased, or reincarnated are merely coincidental and are not meant in any way to be biographical.)  Even more challenging than doubling the in-laws is the unique dance of co-parenting with at least one person you may have paid tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to remove from your life.

In our home, we’ve also personally seen some of the negative effects of the phenomenon known as the teenaged boyfriend.  The worst types of these are “Ex-Boyfriend” and the “Axe Boyfriend.”  Both can leave a trail of tears in their wake. The former through the pain of serial break-ups and reconciliations, and the latter as the natural human response to the overuse of heavily-scented toxic body spray (little known fact: the rate use of such body spray has increased in a correlative proportion to the decrease in tobacco use, and is the reason the rate of lung cancer has remained the same).

Goofy KidsIn my law practice, I’ve seen what happens when these boyfriends and girlfriends turn into spouses and ex-spouses of the next generation.  The in-laws can quintuple or more.   At that point, you might have to bring in a genealogist and a private investigator to figure out who is in the family for sure.

Each step-family starts with the desire to have a fully blended family that functions just like a nuclear family, but the reality is that parts of the family will blend and parts will never blend.  Some parts will be fine for a while and then unexpectedly “unblend” when death, disability, or some other crises enter the fray.  A friend of mine often says, “A dream with out a plan is just a wish.” Cognitive dissonance about the unblended parts of a step-family simply hides the reality that blood is thicker than other relationships.  Ex-spouses and ex-in-laws and future sons-in-law or daughters-in-law complicate family dynamics, so it is best to address those in estate planning.

Each of these unique family combinations act as tectonic plates slowly and innocuously grinding behind the scenes until there is a release from a series of unfortunate events that may cause “ripples in the pond” for garden-variety nuclear families but could become tidal waves in the much more volatile ocean of step-families (it’s not all bad, sometimes that pressure creates some diamonds, like my beautiful step-daughters).  With all of the extra nuances of ex-in-laws, half-siblings, step-cousins, etc., there are more chances to have an instigator or agitator in the family.  In this regard, the law of probabilities is not kind to the exponential growth of the family tree fed by the stored up energy of a second or third marriage or second or third generation of step-families.

For the past few years, I have felt called to serve these special families by providing estate planning and guidance specifically tailored to their unique situations. In that time, they have become the majority of my new clients.  I am working with a team of internationally renowned advisors to restructure my firm and my services to better serve these clients, and I am excited about where we are and we are heading.

In the coming weeks and months and years, I will share more unique aspects of the new martial art of step-family estate planning and why a step-family estate planning attorney is like the ninja of all estate planning attorneys.  I will even show how other types of families can benefit from these advanced ninja estate planning techniques.  In my experience, for example, the nieces and nephews of a childless person can cause more trouble than any group of step-children or in-laws I’ve ever dealt with (there is kidnapping and suicide in the niece and nephew stories that is fortunately lacking in my step-family and in-law stories).  So, until next time, hug someone’s step-kid (or niece or nephew) today (unless of course that person has a restraining order out on you, then by all means, honor the order of the court).

To learn more about our specialized planning approach to serving you and your family, please call our office at 616-777-5291, or Contact Us here to schedule a free personalized Infinite Legacy℠ Planning session with Ninja Estate Planning Attorney Shawn Eyestone.