Second Marriages and Trust Litigation

In the case of a second marriage, the parent of adult children usually want their children to maintain a relationship with the new spouse.

Perhaps the second marriage began when the children were still minors or it may be after they have grown.

The biggest misconception of a parent is to prepare estate planning documents which require that the children and step parent maintain a relationship. This is often done by naming the step parent as trustee over the assets. This role may require the step parent to make discretionary decisions about investments and distributions to their step children.

In so many cases, the step parent – step children relationship is tenuous. Even more so after the death of the parent, it is not uncommon to see mistrust, resentment and eventually litigation.

Often the deceased parent is the only glue that connects the step parent and the step children. Once that glue that holding the family together is gone, the relationships often deteriorate, especially where money is involved. Many break down almost immediately after the death of a parent.

A good estate plan is drafted to dodge common pitfalls. One pitfall is placing a step parent in as a fiduciary or trustee over step children. Good estate plans will also ensure that the step parent and adult children do not share ownership over the same asset. There should never be a time where either the step parent or the step children are at the mercy of one another when it comes to division of assets.

A revocable trust should set out clear instructions as the management of the asset, the division of the asset and a clear line between the assets of the step parent and the assets of the children of the decedent.

Naming a third party or corporate trustee is also a very good way to defuse litigation between the distrustful parties and diffuse accusations of misappropriation of trust assets by the step parent and step children.

The bottom line is that you cannot force a relationship to continue no matter what plans you prepare.

Ring Photo by Jeff Belmonte. Details at