By Ashley L. Hawley
December 7, 2022
Estate Planning Attorney Ashley Hawley kicks off the conversation about Mixed Family Dynamics by talking about Wisconsin’s default rule in her latest vlog. The concept of the default rule is the state of Wisconsin has a law purporting to know what an individual would want in the event they have a mixed family situation and they pass away without an estate plan. In reality, Ashley explains, our lives are not that black and white and the default rule may not apply.
One of my favorite topics of discussion from an estate planning perspective is Mixed Family Dynamics. The reason that I love this topic so much is it’s a place where people like me, can provide a lot of value.
I’m Ashley Hawley and I’m an attorney on Ruder Ware’s Trusts & Estates team.
I want to start off this conversation about Mixed Family Dynamics by talking about Wisconsin’s default rule. I know that you’ve heard me use this term before, and others in my group have used it in their presentations, but the concept of the default rule is that the state of Wisconsin has a law that says they know what you would want in the event that you have a mixed family situation and you pass away without an estate plan.
So John Smith is married, he has children from a previous relationship, and he passes away without having done a will or trust or other estate plan. In that situation, the state of Wisconsin says, “we know exactly what John Smith would want – he wants half of his assets to go to his new spouse and the other half of his assets to go and be divided equally between his children.”
I know that from personal experience, and I know some of you that are listening to this are going “what?” That default rule might not be what you really want to have happen with your assets when you pass away. This idea of a mixed family means a lot of different things to a lot of different people and it might be that I’ve kept all of my assets separate and I want all of my assets to go to my children – my spouse is well off, she had adult children when we got married, I want her to have “hers” and I’m going have “mine,” I don’t want anything to go to my spouse.
Sometimes, there’s a “mine” and “his” and “ours” in the family situation with the children and it might be that I want everything to go to my spouse because then when he or she passes away, then it gets divided equally between all of our children. “Mine” and ‘his” and “ours” … sometimes this mixed family situation is a real broken family. I’m not saying that traditional families aren’t broken, they’re broken too or can be, but sometimes, you know, the the idea is, I don’t have a relationship with my kids anymore, I want everything to go to my spouse, or even, I want everything to go to my spouse’s kids, or I want everything to go to my niece and nephew. This concept, this default rule, is a really black and white rule, and our lives are not black and white.
So none of these scenarios or situations are wrong, they just aren’t what the default rule says. As an estate planner, my goal is to figure out what your goals are, and to put those goals into writing. The best advice that I can give you, is that you should sit down and figure out what you truly want to do with your assets when you pass away. Then, sit down with an estate planning attorney and figure out the best way to put those wishes into writing. Any member of my team over here at Ruder Ware can help you with that plan.
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