Fred Thompson Family Lawsuit Highlights Estate Planning Challenges Faced by Many

The family of former U.S. Senator and film/television star Fred Thompson, who passed away in November, 2015, are embroiled in a very public dispute over his estate plan.

His two adult sons from a previous marriage have filed a lawsuit claiming his widow, Jeri Thompson, improperly made changes to the plan during the last weeks of his life (you can read the complaint here). She has asked the court to dismiss the suit, countering that the only changes made were slight and did not impact the sons’ inheritance.

This case highlights a pair of estate planning trouble spots that can easily lead to family conflict, regardless of how well you plan or how good and thorough your attorney is: first, the challenge of blended families; and second, the difficulties surrounding when a loved one begins to lose the ability to care for him or herself.

Estate planning for blended families raises unique challenges. When spouses bring children from a previous relationship, ensuring that their intentions will be followed when they pass away requires careful planning and attention to tough questions. How should you make sure your new spouse is cared for but also will provide for your children after you pass away? What obligations do you have to your spouse’s children if you are the surviving spouse?

Some seek to address this situation with a contract between spouses that prohibits the surviving spouse from changing their will, but that kind of restriction raises its own set of dilemmas. Others choose to provide for their children using life insurance strategies so that their benefit does not rely on the will.  Work together with your financial planner and with an experienced Tennessee wills attorney to develop an approach that works best for you and your family.

When a loved one’s mental capacity begins to fade, family anxiety over who is closest and has the most influence often leads to conflict. What can you do to avoid this?

First, when your intentions and plans come together, you may want to keep your close family members informed. If you think they may be surprised, or even hurt, by your decisions, facing that conversation head on while your mental capacity is strong will allow you to explain your thought process, and will keep your spouse or other loved ones from having to deal with that confrontation without you.

Second, if one of your goals is to provide for your children from a previous marriage, communicate that desire directly to your spouse or other loved ones, and take positive steps to protect your plans for their inheritance. A power of attorney or trust agreement authorizes someone to act on your behalf during your lifetime, but can be drafted in such a way as to prohibit an agent or trustee from changing your beneficiaries.

The details of what happened in the Thompson case, or what steps may have avoided such public conflict are not clear. Here is one thing that is clear: you don’t need to be a politician or movie star to encounter the challenge of complex family dynamics, and the painful issues surrounding end of life care.

Please contact us today online or by calling 800.705.2121 to discuss your legal options.