There are countless television shows that have tackled the divorce/remarriage/estate planning quagmire and most of those television shows are comedy. The irony isn’t lost on estate planning lawyers. In one episode of the syndicated Reba show, these problems were tackled with humor and even though there’s no estate planning effort that’s going to be resolved in 18 minutes, this episode was one of the funnier ones that also managed to present it in a somewhat realistic manner.
Estate Planning in 18 Minutes
The plot included the family patriarch, Brock, who left his wife and remarried. He let it slip to his former wife, Reba, who has custody of the couple’s children, that he’d completed his will already and that he left everything to his current wife with full confidence that she would divide the estate equally. He justified his line of thinking, “Even when she cuts a cake, each piece is perfectly cut with no one piece bigger than another.”
Naturally, this didn’t bode well with Reba. She approaches the new wife, Barbara Jean, who lets another secret slip. Brock and Reba’s oldest daughter and her husband had also completed their will and left their young daughter in the care of Brock and Barbara Jean should something happen to them. Naturally, this was devastating news for Reba.
While the subject matter is serious – and important – the comedic efforts hit the mark and are indicative of what goes on in many families across the nation. Even though by the time the show finished, and after you count for the commercials, these problems were solved in 18 minutes. If only life imitated art, yes?
A Heavy Burden Left Behind
The truth is, trusting anyone, even a new wife, to carry out your wishes without memorializing them in a will is not wise. After all, present ten random people to discern what “fair” means in any given situation, and you’re likely going to receive ten very different answers. The entire purpose of doing a will is not to simply name someone else to tend to the distribution after your death, but rather, the goal is to provide specific direction for the fair distribution of your assets. When you think about it, and especially if there’s a divorce and remarriage involved, it’s not fair to the one who must now shoulder the burden of trying to please all of the heirs. If you’ve avoided doing it because of the stress, you can be sure that stress is going to be tenfold if a new spouse is forced to make those choices.
By setting up trusts, putting a financial power of attorney and healthcare proxy in place, you’ve got a great foundation from which to build your estate. The more detailed you are, the better it will unfold when you’re no longer there to ensure it happens the way you want.
Guardianship for Minor Children
Of course, the sitcom didn’t probe too deeply into the emotional and legal aspects; after all, it’s a thirty minute comedy. The efforts of the younger couple in the show were presented as a simple declaration of “They’re leaving the baby to us” by the new wife. In real life, a guardianship would be in order. Again, this works to ensure your minor children go to a trusted person or people of your choosing. There was an important and overlooked element in this episode, too. The question was, “Why would you leave your daughter to your father and stepmother when you, your husband and your baby have lived with me from the very beginning?” The reasoning, once explained, made sense. They simply explained that yes, they were married young and yes, her mother cared for them and supported the pregnancy and their marriage, but that they felt like it would be unfair to Reba since it would require an even bigger commitment and they felt like she deserved to have her own life. This way, they reasoned, Grandpa and step-Grandma could share in the raising of the little girl.
The episode was funny; the topic was anything but. It’s an important life even that none of us should take for granted. If you’d like to learn more about putting your own will together or want information on what a guardianship for your children might look like, we invite you to contact us today.