Blended families are a fairly normal part of modern life, with both divorces and remarriages becoming quite common. That said, this fact of life accounts for a good portion of the family baggage of modern living and a lion’s share of the estate planning problems. Blended families have some extra concerns and extra problems, especially when each spouse hopes to take care of their own children from a previous marriage. A recent Forbes article explores a particularly strange probate case to prove the point. Word to the wise: Watch out for QTIPs (and not just because your doctor is worried you will hurt your ear). A QTIP is shorthand for “Qualified Terminable Interest Property.” It is a way to hold property for the surviving spouse that qualifies for the unlimited marital deduction without being an outright bequest. Of course, a spouse can always give his or her assets outright to their surviving spouse without incurring taxation. In the case of an outright bequest the surviving spouse gets to deal with the outright assets as his or her own property (because it is). But what if you ultimately wanted to give the property to your children from a previous marriage, but you wanted to allow your spouse to have it until their own death? That’s the planning strategy that lead to the contested probate court case of In the Matter of The Estate of Sydney Stark, as described by Forbes. Sydney Stark used the QTIP to leave an apartment to his wife, Sylvia, and then ultimately to his children from a previous marriage. The problem with the QTIP is that the assets in the QTIP have to count as being owned within the surviving spouse’s estate to qualify for the marital deduction. As a result, it becomes more likely that the surviving spouse’s estate may incur the estate tax. Sylvia Stark’s estate did. In the case of a blended family like this one, with Sylvia leaving her assets to her own child of a previous marriage, this strategy meant Sylvia left an estate tax bill to her own child without the additional assets to pay the IRS. Why? The QTIP assets passed fully to the children of Sydney Stark. Naturally, Sylvia’s own child cried foul. You can read more about QTIPs and the unfortunate tale of this dystopian Brady Bunch in the original article. In the end, this case provides yet another lesson about matters for careful consideration when planning your estate, especially if you and your spouse have complex and potentially competing interests.
Reference: Forbes (October 14, 2011) “Blended Family Not Like The Brady Bunch – At Least Not in Probate Court”