In estate planning and probate matters, the ties that bind tend to govern. Whether those are family ties created by blood or ties created by law such as marriage, those are the legal links that allow property and other rights to flow from one person to another. Unfortunately, one group that often falls outside the legal line is stepparents in blended families. While they may be legally married to one of the parents of the children, that in and of itself gives the stepparent no legal right regarding the kids.
Imagine that the father has his children from a previous marriage for the weekend, but he has to drive a few hours away unexpectedly. The stepmother is left with the children for most of the day. While in her care, one of the minor children falls and hits his head, knocking him unconscious. The stepmother knows that the child’s mother is out of town this weekend, so she takes the injured child to the closest emergency room for treatment.
While trying to check in on the child, the stepmother starts producing insurance cards, identification, debit cards and everything else necessary to make sure the child is cared for. But then the person taking down the information notices that the form has been signed “stepmother” and asks if there is a power of attorney or health care designation or guardianship or anything else that gives the stepmother the right to have the child treated.
Unbeknownst to the stepmother, she literally has no legal rights to authorize treatment for her husband’s child. What if the husband had been killed in a car accident while he was gone? Would the stepmother have any rights to even see his children again if the ex-wife is uncooperative?
As in many estate planning matters, the devil is in the details. What’s seems to be perfectly logical or even humane may not be in the eyes of the law. When creating blended families, make sure that the rights of all of the parties are protected. A power of attorney or similar document can give the stepparent the right to act on behalf of the child whenever necessary.
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