Blended family? Better pay close attention to your estate planning! Inheritance conflicts between stepparents and grown stepchildren are common. And since women tend to outlive men, it’s usually the stepmother at the center of the controversy.
It’s usually the stepmother and grown children
In his book, The Wolf At The Door: Undue Influence and Elder Financial Abuse, California attorney Michael Hackford notes that half of his probate litigation cases involve stepmothers and stepchildren. Over the years we’ve written about many such conflicts. Here’s an update on one: The estate of Alan Thicke, singer and star of TV’s once-popular Growing Pains. You can read the original blog post here.
Thicke died suddenly in 2016, leaving behind his third wife, Tanya Callau, and children from prior marriages. His trust named his two sons from a prior marriage, Robin and Brennan, as co-trustees. The children were to inherit the California ranch he and Callau lived on, but she would be allowed to remain there so long as she maintained the property. His children would get over half of the remaining estate, while Callau would get the furnishings, her late husband’s pensions and union death benefits, half a million dollars in life insurance, and 40% of the remaining estate.
Without Thicke to hold the family together, and with co-trustees Robin and Brennan holding the purse strings, things started going off the legal rails almost immediately. As I noted in that prior blog post, Callau questioned the prenuptial she’d signed, alleging it did not properly distinguish between personal property and community property. Robin and Brennan went to court to block her right to challenge the prenup, but lost that legal battle last year.
Battle over the estate
More recently Callau filed papers accusing her stepsons of violating their fiduciary duties. She claims they are spending the estate assets recklessly, denying her her inheritance, not keeping her informed, and that she is being charged for taxes and other expenses that are not her responsibility. Among her specific complaints is that Thicke’s sons refuse to reimburse her for the cost of the monument she selected for her late husband’s gravesite. This particularly irked her because his sons reportedly threw a lavish pre-funeral memorial party for their father — to the tune of $105,000.
Callau’s attorney, Adam Streisand, says: “America’s dad would would be ashamed of his own sons who disgrace their father’s legacy out of greed and resentment against the woman whose only crime was loving her husband with everything she had… the fact that Tanya still hasn’t received her inheritance is unconscionable.” No doubt more legal fireworks are ahead.
If you are planning your estate and you too have a “blended family,” remember that you may be more responsible than you realize for the peace in your family. When you’re gone and money is at stake, relationships can suffer, so it’s vital to make sure every “i” is dotted and every “t” is crossed in your estate plan. The Karp Law Firm attorneys can help.