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Blended Families – Adult Children – Grandchildren

The tough talks we, as lawyers, have with our clients about their estate planning often involve a discussion about the relationships they hold dearest. This blog series, Tough Talks, addresses those relationships and how they impact estate planning.

Let’s recap briefly:

  • We have discussed that 55 and up year old people are increasingly remarrying (Blog #1, February 18, 2019: Getting Real in Estate Planning).
  • We have talked about how being married for even a short period of time causes a married couple to take on the potentially tremendously expensive burden of nursing home costs, that use to have been avoidable (Blog #2, February 26, 2019: Remarriage).
  • We have also talked about handling money (Blog #3, March 18, 2019: Money Discussions) and
  • the last blog addressed accidentally disinheriting loved ones (Blog #4, March 31, 2019: Accidentally Disinheriting).

Adult Children and Grandchildren

This time I am wading into the “Highly Volatile” area of “Adult Children and Grandchildren.”  These can be very difficult and emotionally charged issues. You are likely to have a decades long relationship and an inborn instinctive desire to protect your Adult Child. You have been in a relationship with that Adult Child for decades. Another version of that runs down to your much more vulnerable Grandchildren. They may hold the closest part of your heart. How you feel and interact with your Adult Children and Grandchildren is how you feel. It may be a central core of your heart and the primary relationships in your life.

This topic is probably one of the toughest talks we have with our clients. One of the things we see in Estate Planning is how your Wealth is impacted by these relationships. They are the best part of life that can be a stabilizing force or they can create chaos. These relationships directly impact how you are living, what you own, and your ability to transfer what you leave when you pass on.

There is no right or wrong way to parent. I am just saying I have seen it become an issue with clients. Also much of who a person becomes is in the “Hard Wiring” they were born with, regardless of how they were raised.

Where Estate Planning can Fail

As we deal with Estate Planning from my clients over the years I find that most times the Estate Plan fails on one of a number of three (3) main ways.

(1) The people’s side breaks down depending upon how you leave the money and to whom;

(2) how your assets move after your death, as described in our last Blog regarding unintentionally disinheriting your loved ones; and

(3) changes in the law.

How you deal with your Adult Children and Grandchildren definitely does impact your Estate Plan while you are alive and definitely when you are gone. Your existing relationships greatly impact your relationship with your new partner when a couple remarries. It might be an area that will have a substantial impact on clients in preserving their own wealth and in their Estate Planning.

Money, Sex and Kids:

The Experts often say that “Money, Sex and Kids” are the areas of conflict and contention with any married couple. This is probably more so with a Couple merging their lives in the age 55 and up category. However, I do think that it is an issue that the Couple needs to look at and their Trusted Advisors need to pay attention to up-front. It can have catastrophic effects if nobody pays attention going into the new marriage while the couple is in the “Fog of Love” or “White Fever”.

Again, there is no right or wrong way to parent. Many people have different parenting styles. They are all your personal choice. That also applies with Grandchildren. It may have an impact when Seniors Remarry or it may not.

We will touch on some of these issues and how it might affect the client’s Legal Estate Planning.

As we have discussed previously, more and more people age 55 and up are remarrying. (57% remarried in 2013, versus 42% in 1960.)

When age 55 and up adults remarry with no children there are a lot less issues. When one or both parties have Adult Children (and/or Grandchildren) that’s much more of a “balancing act”.

What the parent’s relationship is with their Adult Child will very much affect how the relationship will work when the Seniors remarry.

More Involved versus Hands Off:

There are two basic parenting and relationship styles I have observed with my clients over the years that directly impacts their estate planning perspective: parents who are more involved with their Adult Children and Grandchildren versus those who are more “hands off.”  This particular blog addresses those two styles and the conflicts they can create. The next blog will address how those conflicts or differences can and do impact the estate planning process.

More Involved:

What we have a tendency to see is that some age 55 and up Seniors are very involved in their Adult Children’s lives. Some speak with their Adult Children every day. Some are visiting in person every day with that Adult Child. I have seen a number of circumstances where the Senior insists on living in the same town or location where their Adult Child is. Even if they have to move to follow them. (This may relate to Grandchildren. We will discuss that more later.)

Some Senior Adult Parents will be very involved with the Adult Children on a day-to-day level both socially and economically. This may involve helping that Adult Child pay their bills. I have seen a number of situations where clients who are in their 70s or 80s are regularly paying the expenses of their Adult Children, including mortgage payments, car payments, education payments for grandchildren, country club dues, vacation expenses, and other “life-style” expenses.

I read a recent survey that said retired Seniors who financially supported the “life-style” expenses of their Adult Children are 70% more unhappy than those who did not pay any expenses for their Adult Children.

I’ve seen situations where the trusted Financial Advisor of the client was telling the client that they were using up their assets that they would need to live on while continuing to pay their Adult Children’s “Lifestyle“ expenses. That they were in danger of “running out of money”. However the Senior Parents were having difficulty in telling their Adult Children “No”.

I saw one situation where one Gentleman in his 80s left retirement more than once to return to work. When I asked him why, he said his Adult Children in their fifties would call his Wife and say they needed $30,000 or $50,000 thousand dollars for some improvement on their home and his Wife, their Mother, would write them check for that amount. Only later would the Husband  find out that that money had been spent. He then felt that he had to go back to work to bring in money for their living expenses.

When the Senior needs more money for their own living expenses (and healthcare), they may have to ween the Adult Child off of the financial “Gravy Train.” The Adult Child then has to learn to pay their own personal overhead.

More “Hands Off”

Other versions of relationship we see between Seniors and their Adult Children appear to be more “Hands Off”. The Seniors may be comfortable living in another part of the country as the Seniors still want to “have their own life as long as possible”. You will often see that with Retirees here in Western North Carolina. The Adult Children live elsewhere and are busy working daily building their own lives and raising their own children. They do not have the time to interact daily with “Grandma and Grandpa”.

These are often situations where the Adult Parent does not financially support their Adult Children. This is on a on-going bases.

My mother would say to us children, “We will educate you, but then you are on your own”. My parents’ goal was to help us with education so that we could earn our own living. After education they were not going to pay money out to me and my siblings.

My parents were also happy to live in different States than where we lived. They wanted to have “their own life”. My mom said, “I won’t raise your children. I raised you. Raising your children is your job.”  My mother even said “Your Father and I will never live with you as we get older. It would end your marriage and ruin your life”. They never did.

Common Conflicts

These two parenting and relationship styles create common areas of conflict with the couple working on their estate plans:

Conflict in Senior Couples – Time:

The “Rub” or “Conflict” can come where one of the remarried Senior is very emotionally, financially and/or or physically involved day-to-day with their Adult Children, and their new Senior partner is not. This could be the situation when one spouse insist on living physically near their Adult Child or Grandchildren. If the other Senior Adult wants to spend half of their time traveling and exploring the world, or “playing” – dance, golf, friends, etc., this can be a very tough issue.

Conflict in Senior Couples – Disrespect:

Another difficult issue that I have seen is where one Spouse is unhappy with how the Adult Child of their Partner treats their Partner. They may feel that that Adult Child may not be as involved as they would like, or the biological Adult Child may be disrespectful or hurtful to their Parent (their Spouse), or to them. This can especially be a problem when the offended Senior’s Adult Children are very respectful of both their biological parent and their step-parent. I have seen this as an area of contention. I have also seen that over time the Step-Parent may grow closer to the Step-Children who are more involved and kinder than their own biological Adult Children.

Conflict in Senior Couples – Money:

Often an area we can see conflict is the area of money. We often hear that “Money, Children and Sex” are the main areas of “Fights” in a marriage. This may be more amplified in a “Blended Family”, including Seniors that remarry.

I have had a case where one Spouse was more independent of his Adult Children and the other new Spouse was very involved with her Adult Son. Only after the Parties married did the Spouse who was independent of his Adult Children find out that his new Spouse was very much financially supporting her Adult Son, even though that Son had his own successful career. It became an issue and boiled over when the independent Spouse found out that his new Spouse was moving large amounts of their “Joint Money”, that was supposed to be for their overhead and travel, to her Adult Son who had his own lucrative career. This later lead to the demise of that marriage. The parties ended up going back to dating exclusively, which was how they dealt with the monetary issue with the Adult Child.


Grandchildren seem to be a very unique issue. Some couples are happy to occasionally visit the Grandchildren, and others want to be involved with them every day. I have seen a number of situations where the Senior Partner Grandparent in essence seems like they are almost “raising” the Grandchild. They may be the one who prepares the Grandchildren’s breakfast and take them to school. They can also be the one that gets the children after school, makes sure they do their homework and feeds them dinner. Thereafter the Adult Parent picks up the Grandchildren and takes the Grandchildren to their separate residence.

As I said, I have seen a number of cases where the Adult Senior moves near to where their Grandchildren live. This is going to be more of an issue where it is the Grandchildren of one of the Senior Spouse and not the other.

It can also be a question of the “Cost of Living”. One of the things that I found in our mobile society is that our clients move South for retirement. They do so for climate reasons, and also for the lower cost of living. If they move back to the Northeast, or to California, or to an expensive Metropolitan area, to be near Grandchildren, their personal overhead costs can move back up dramatically. Then they have the questions of “What will be their ability to cover their own expenses over time?”

Rarely do my clients plan on spending down their money and then move in to the house of their Adult Children. It is a difficult issue for all involved.


As you can see, these two very different parenting and relationship styles that a couple in a blended family may have, can create areas of conflict. These areas of conflict can flow over into the estate planning process and create further frustration and disagreement.  In the next blog we will discuss specifically how they can impact the estate planning process.

At the Law Firm of Steven Andrew Jackson, Attorney and Counsellor at Law, we have helped hundreds of families protect themselves and their loved ones, avoid Estate Taxes and Probate Costs, and keep their Estate Plans current with the law through The Customized Protective Estate Planning Solution™.