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The Brady Bunch: The story of a Blended Family

In the first season of the Brady Bunch, Carol Brady tells her step-son, Bobby Brady that “the only steps in this house are those, and they lead right up to your bedroom”. Although this is a wonderful sentiment, the truth about blended families is that there can be devastating consequences for children of a previous marriage if their biological parent dies without a will, unless the step child is legally adopted by the step parent.

Blended families, such as the Brady Bunch are common place in this day and age. In the 2011 Census, 12.6% of couples with children were stepfamilies. Given the large proportion of families who are “complex” structure, one would think that more emphasis would be placed on the necessity for proper estate planning in such a case. Take the Brady Bunch as an example. Tom and Carol are married, and each have 3 biological children from a previous marriage. Under provincial law, if Carol were to die without a Will, Tom would be entitled to the first $200,000 plus one third of the remainder. The children, that is Carol’s biological or adopted children would share in the remaining two thirds of the estate. If Carol’s estate amounts to $200,000, then Tom would inherit everything and her biological children would be left with nothing. Once Tom passes away, if he also does not have a Will, everything will go to Tom’s biological children, leaving Carol’s children disinherited.

Now what if Carol and Tom drafted a Will. They decide to leave everything to each other and then to all 6 kids once they are both gone. Although this sounds like an easy solution, nothing is stopping the surviving spouse from changing their Will once the other has died. So in our example, Carol has died first, but this time her Will stipulates that Tom gets everything. Years pass, and Carol’s kids don’t call as much as they should, and Tom decides to change his Will. His new Will now makes his 3 boys as the sole beneficiaries to his estate, again leaving Carol’s children disinherited.

The last example we will explore is the case where Tom remarries after Carol’s death (of course after an appropriate mourning period). He has kept the Will all these years which lists all 6 kids as beneficiaries to his estate. Upon marrying his third wife, his Will is revoked by operation of law. If he dies before signing a new will, Carol’s children will once again be left in the dust. What’s more, is that absent a marriage contract, Tom’s third wife will be entitled to the first $200,000 plus one third of the remainder of his estate and Tom’s 3 biological sons will be entitled to the remaining two thirds.

The moral of the Brady Bunch story is without proper estate planning, your loved ones could be left with nothing.