Early in the Brady Bunch series, Bobby is struggling with being a stepchild. In a tender moment, his new mom says, “Listen, the only steps in this house are the ones that lead up to your bedroom.” With that well-placed sentiment, Carol handled one of the more serious problems the show grappled with—the challenges of being a “blended family.”
When Mike and Carol tied the knot, each of them had prior children. As any fan of the 1970s sitcom will remember, these stepsiblings would know antics and tribulations—from the bruised nose that played havoc with Marcia’s social life to the coveted attic bedroom that pitted her against her brother Greg.
Legal problems were never an issue for the Bradys. But as many gay and lesbian couples know too well, blended families often do face legal challenges. For example, what would have happened if Mike had died unexpectedly? Would Carol have had the legal right to care for Greg, Peter, and Bobby? If Mike and Carol both died without Wills, would all six children inherit from them equally?
Before they exchanged vows, Mike and Carol should have taken these questions to an estate-planning attorney. He or she would have suggested how they could protect themselves legally, no matter what lay ahead.
His first thought might have been a prenuptial agreement. Often the stuff of sitcom one-liners, a prenup can be an essential document when a real-life marriage ends. It’s hard to imagine Mike and Carol ever breaking up, but a second marriage with prior children is a prime circumstance in which a prenup may be called for.
A prenup protects both spouses by stating how matters like property division and the payment of alimony will be managed in the event of a divorce. It can also say what happens upon the death of one spouse by limiting the survivor’s right to settle the estate or receive a portion of the estate assets. These provisions can help the couple protect their separate assets in case the marriage ends.
Another suggestion would be to set up a marital trust in Mike and Carol’s Wills. If Mike were to die, all of his assets would go into a trust for Carol’s benefit. She would receive all of the income the trust produced, as well as distributions of principal for her heath and general support. Then, upon Carol’s death, the remaining trust assets would go to Greg, Peter, and Bobby in equal shares—or to all six of the Brady kids, depending on what he and Carol had agreed to.
A marital trust, sometimes called a QTIP trust (QTIP stands for “qualified terminable interest in property”), ensures that the assets of the first spouse to die will eventually be distributed to his or her children. If Mike simply left everything to Carol, he couldn’t be sure that she wouldn’t leave her whole estate to her three girls (despite what she said to Bobby), or perhaps remarry and leave everything to her new husband. A QTIP trust would prevent this.
Mike and Carol should also have considered legal adoption. Because Mike’s first wife was deceased, Carol could have legally adopted Greg, Peter, and Bobby. Taking this step would enable her to continue to be their mom if Mike died. The story with Carol’s first husband, Mr. Martin, was always a little vague. If he was still living, he would have to relinquish his parental rights in order for Mike to adopt Marcia, Jan, and Cindy.
All of these legal strategies will help a blended family weather a crisis. With their estate plans in place, Mike and Carol could put their minds at ease and focus on what they did best—simply being Brady.