The Changing Face of Family: The Rise of Estrangement and Its Impact on Estate Planning

November 15, 2023

In the evolving landscape of familial relationships, the once unshakable foundations of family bonds are witnessing a significant transformation. Recent studies, including those published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, have uncovered a startling trend: an increasing number of young adults are choosing to estrange themselves from their parents. This societal shift, marked by 26 percent of young adults reporting estrangement from fathers and 6 percent from mothers, is not just a fleeting change but a harbinger of a new era of family dynamics.

As estate planning professionals, we are particularly attentive to these changing social patterns, given their profound implications for the process of estate planning and inheritance. At the heart of this issue is the fact that, in the absence of a clearly articulated estate plan, estranged children retain the same legal rights to inheritance as those who maintain close ties with their family.

For parents navigating the pain and complexity of estrangement from their children, the legal aspect of estate planning becomes a crucial tool. It allows them to align the distribution of their estate with the realities of their current family relationships. Without a revised estate plan, an estranged child may still stand to inherit assets or potentially challenge the wishes laid out in a parent's will.

The Impact of Estrangement on Estate Planning

Estrangement, particularly in the context of estate planning, brings to the forefront difficult conversations about the distribution of assets, the reconciliation of relationships, and the emotional intricacies involved in such decisions. For parents, this often translates to a critical question: "Should an estranged child be included in the inheritance?"

Without an updated estate plan, state laws typically grant children—including those who are estranged—an equal share of any intestate estate. This can be contrary to a parent's wishes, especially if the relationship has been severed for years, or the parent feels the child has not contributed positively to their life or wellbeing. It's crucial for parents to recognize that estate planning can be a proactive step in affirming their decisions about which family members they wish to support after they're gone.

Opening Dialogue Through Estate Planning

Estate planning may also serve as a platform for dialogue. A parent might use the revision of their estate plan as an opportunity to communicate with an estranged child, either directly or symbolically. It's a moment to express that while they respect the child's choice for distance, it may result in tangible consequences regarding their legacy and inheritance.

The decision to exclude an estranged child from a will is not one to be taken lightly and often comes after much deliberation and emotional turmoil. It's essential for this process to be handled with sensitivity and care, ideally under the guidance of experienced estate planning attorneys who can navigate the legal and emotional complexities involved.

Protecting Your Estate Planning Wishes

For those facing the challenge of estrangement, it's imperative to work with attorneys who can tailor estate plans that reflect the current state of family relationships. Spence | Brierley, a firm with seasoned expertise in estate planning, stands ready to assist in such matters. Their deep understanding of both the legal and personal aspects of estate planning ensures that the wishes of parents are honored and that their estates are distributed in a way that aligns with their intentions.

Moreover, the firm can provide insights into the use of trusts, directives, and other estate planning tools that can protect assets from unwanted claims or challenges. Whether it's a simple will revision or a comprehensive estate plan overhaul, legal guidance is indispensable.

As the concept of family continues to evolve, so too must our approach to estate planning. The increase in estrangement among young adults calls for a sensitive and strategic response from parents and estate planners alike. The overarching message is clear: estate plans should not be static documents but living ones that reflect the nuances of our personal relationships. By proactively addressing these changes, parents can ensure that their final wishes are respected and that their estate plans stand as a true reflection of their familial ties—or the lack thereof.

For parents struggling with the decision of whether to include an estranged child in their estate, the guiding principle should be clarity of intention. An estate plan is not just a legal document; it's a final statement of care, values, and recognition. In the hands of compassionate and knowledgeable legal professionals, it can be crafted to respect the bonds that matter most and to protect the legacy one chooses to leave behind.

Stouffer Legal can help you understand the family and legal dynamics that arise when a family member has absented themselves from your life.

Photo credit: SBS News

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