Joan and Bob recently met with their attorney to review their estate plan. They were in their mid 60s and had been very happily married for 39 years. They had three children who were all doing well and living productive lives.
Bob and Joan had managed to accumulate about a half a million dollars in assets over their life time together and were living comfortably on Social Security and their pension. Joan joked that the only time they used income from their assets was when they wanted to splurge.
To help Joan and Bob determine whether any changes should be made, the attorney took them through a series of questions and reviewed their current documents.
The attorney identified a number of issues which were not fully addressed in the existing plan and dug a little deeper to determine if the issues were significant to Bob and Joan.
In particular, the attorney wanted to know whether Bob and Joan were concerned about their spouse remarrying if one of them were to die.
Both responded with a laugh, and said they were not the least bit concerned. Both Bob and Joan were confident that even if one of them did remarry, the survivor would never do anything to hurt the children. They were certain that the surviving spouse would make sure that all of the assets passed to the children and would not go to a new spouse.
The attorney tried to help them understand that while they currently did not have these concerns, in his experience, the emotional trauma one goes through with the loss of a loved one can trigger reactions and behavior that might now seem unthinkable. He encouraged them to consider implementing safeguards into the plan so that a new spouse could not take away benefits from the children.
The attorney jokingly spoke about this as the Biff and Bambi syndrome. He explained that he wanted to help them ensure the money did not end up with Biff the pool boy or Bambi the bar maid.
Again, they laughed and assured him this was not a concern of theirs, and so the attorney did not include these protective provisions in their planning.
About a year later, Joan was diagnosed with a serious cancer and died shortly thereafter. Bob came into the office distraught, and the attorney assisted him with conveying all of the couple’s assets to his name. About six months later, Bob returned giddy and happy with a new woman 20 years his junior. He instructed the attorney to change his estate plan to ensure that if anything happened to him, his new friend “would be provided for” and that only after his new friend’s death, would assets pass to his children.
The attorney reminded Bob of the goals and objectives he had set with Joan before she died. Bob replied not to be concerned as he was very confident about what he was doing. The attorney told Bob that he could not, in good conscience, make the changes he wanted and advised him to seek other counsel. Bob was disappointed but found another lawyer to help him accomplish his objectives.
Many of us have a story of someone close to us, or a family friend, who lost their spouse while they were in their early retirement years. We’ve also heard the story of what happens when Biff or Bambi enter the picture and change the perspective of the surviving spouse.
Of course, situations like this do not have to happen. With proper planning, the surviving spouse can get all the benefits of the estate without the risk of losing it to Biff or Bambi, with very little additional effort.