Would 'Carol Brady' Have Updated Her Estate Plan?

Jackie Bedard
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The recent passing of television star Florence Henderson, known for her portrayal of the mother "Carol Brady" on "The Brady Bunch ," offers advisors a chance to talk to clients in blended families about the importance of updating planning documents whenever someone is recently divorced or remarried.

The reason for Carol Brady's first marriage ending was never addressed during the original series, which ran from 1969-1974. Show creator Sherwood Schwartz reportedly wanted Carol to be a divorced mother of three girls, but the network executives felt having a divorced mother as a lead character was too risqué for audiences. 

But divorce definitely needs to be talked about in estate planning.

"The Brady Bunch " advanced the portrayal of the "typical" American family in entertainment. Carol and Mike Brady headed the first blended family featured on television. They were even the first married couple shown sharing the same bed! Overall, it was quite the progressive show considering the period.

Divorcing or divorced clients often become focused on the immediate problem of dividing assets, and forget about estate plans that were made during the marriage. These plans address more than just who receives or controls their assets in the event of a debilitating illness or death. 

It's our job to help clients and their loved ones avoid future conflict, heartache, and messy financial wrangling down the line. We recommend the following updates for clients who are divorcing.

1.    Wills

Wills are an obvious place to begin. Make sure these important legal documents are updated and that loved ones know where to locate them. 

2.    Beneficiary Designations

Clients should also update the beneficiary designations for life insurance policies and retirement funds. This is an often overlooked but crucial change to be made during divorce.

3.    Health Care Power of Attorney and Advanced Care Directives

There are also medical concerns to address. Clients should be reminded to change their health care power of attorney documents naming who will handle medical decisions and advocate on their behalf, in the event that they are incapacitated and unable to express their wishes.

In addition, health care advanced directives, commonly called living wills, should be updated to reflect this change as well, to reflect clients' designees of choice. 

4.    Financial Power of Attorney

In addition, a new designation should be made for the durable financial power of attorney, so the correct person has the authority to handle money matters when clients are unable to do so for themselves.

5.    Estate Planners

Clients might need to change their estate planning attorney. Married couples generally work together with the same planner, but when divorcing, they might be best suited to find other planners on their own so as to avoid a conflict of interest.

6.    Qualified Domestic Relations Order

Many people may choose to allow ex-spouses rights to a portion of funds as part of the divorce settlement. Clients should file a Qualified Domestic Relations Order to designate exactly what those ex-spouses are entitled to and how it should be distributed. This will spell out their wishes clearly and help to alleviate disagreements and legal entanglements in the future.

Divorce is a difficult decision, but clients can minimize the long-term effects by handling these important estate planning issues right away. We encourage clients to tackle these issues head-on, and avoid costly and painful legal problems for their loved ones down the line. 

We're pretty sure Carol and Mike Brady would have discussed these sorts of planning issues at their big family table, with Alice the housekeeper throwing in her advice as well. Curious thing... Mike was an architect, but he couldn't design a house with more than one bathroom shared by those six kids?

To read more about common estate planning issues, check out our free guide, Estate Planning Pitfalls: The 12 Most Common Threats to Your Estate and Your Family's Future. If you have a specific case or a question, please don't hesitate to call our office at 919-443-3035 or use our contact form.