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Planning for the in-laws

Just about every appointment with estate planning, something comes up about the in-laws.

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Considering the outcomes of children's marriages is an important aspect of estate planning, Myron Friesen says.
Erin Ehnle Brown / Grand Vale Creative LLC
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Well, this happens to be at the top of my mind as I am just returning from my daughter’s wedding. I consider myself lucky to have a wife of 33 years and four children who were awesome growing up. Now two of the four of them are married. Fortunately, both in-laws are fantastic additions to our family.

I have always told my children that if they would just let me pick out their spouses, it would be much less stressful to me. I am certain that I would pick out good spouses for each of them. However, to date, none of my children have accepted my offer.

Speaking of in-laws, just about every appointment with estate planning, something comes up about the in-laws. For some families, the in-laws are nothing short of a train wreck. The train is already off the track and very few, if any assets, were lost due to the timing of the derailment. Life has moved on, but there are still a few lingering questions.

For others, the train is still on the track, but the rails must be widening because the parents, and even the children themselves, are already talking about it like it is a matter of when, not if. Those are some awkward planning moments, but people need to talk about these issues and how the outlaws could mess up the plan. For estate planning purposes I refer to outlaws as "ex" or soon to be "ex" in-laws.

Some marriages are an ongoing drama that sound like constant fireworks and people are just waiting for the grand finale. For those families, sometimes parents just plan to generation skip that child to simply avoid the potential disaster. They never want anything they own to ever go to that person.


For some families, their children’s marriages are solid, in fact, so solid that they want to give assets both to their children and the in-law. Well, doesn’t that sound happy? It sure does, but it might not be the best thing to do. Why? To start with, so many things can change. Just remember once it is gone, it is gone.

Other marriages are great until a sad illness or tragedy occurs. Love was in the air until the very last breath, and then a child predeceases their parents. I cannot imagine that, but I have clients who have gone through that and we all know that can happen. Then what? Sometimes very little changes, but other times that in-law moves on and gets remarried. That is understandable, but how would that change your thoughts toward that in-law?

What is the solution? To say every situation is different is an understatement, but very few of my clients leave assets to an in-law. After received, the children can do as they please. Usually, parents are protecting assets from the in-laws, not because they don’t love them, but because they know there are circumstances that could lead to some potential problems.

This reminds me of a family I had worked with. The parents wanted me to facilitate a family meeting to explain their plan. I know at least one of the in-laws was not thrilled because they felt left out.

Time passed and those estates ended up transitioning well and that generation passed. Later I was doing planning for an heir and that unhappy in-law. Ironically, as we talked about their children, the very conversation that had come up years earlier with the previous generation came up again, but they were on the other side of the conversation. Ironically, they concluded to do what most families do and not pass on assets to the in-laws. Suddenly it all made sense.

Conclusion: In-laws are awesome until they are not.

Myron Friesen is the co-owner of Farm Financial Strategies Inc. in Osage, Iowa. He can be contacted at 866-524-3636 or friesen@farmestate.com.

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