These days, blended families are becoming more common, and the structure of families is looking increasingly less nuclear. A typical family may have natural children, stepchildren, ex in-laws, and other extended relatives who may or may not still be involved in each other’s lives.
Because blended families have previous relationships and ties outside of their current family unit, it’s important to understand how to navigate the uncertainties of estate planning for your unique situation.
What is a blended family?
Blended families are families in which two partners share a life together with children from one or both of their previous relationships. Every blended family looks different; one may involve a person with children marrying someone with no children; another could involve divorced parents or widowers who both have children and marry later in life.
These complex relationships and the increased number of family members in blended families might create some confusion and issues when drafting an estate plan, especially if one or both spouses has an old estate plan drafted during their previous marriage. It’s critical to be aware of these potential issues and set solutions in place as you write your Will or other estate planning documents.
Estate planning considerations for blended families
Simple Wills can cut children out
In a scenario in which both partners have children from separate relationships, it’s possible for the children of one partner to be completely cut out of an inheritance after the other partner dies. If one spouse leaves all their assets to their partner in the form of a simple Will and then dies, their surviving partner could change their Will to leave their entire inheritance to only their biological children. This scenario tends to be most common when one partner passes decades before the other and then the surviving partner remarries or becomes estranged from their partner’s children.
If you and your spouse both have children from previous relationships, you may wish to each write a Will that specifically leaves assets to your respective children after your death to ensure they receive an inheritance. You may also want to name your children to serve as Executor of your Will rather than your spouse, to ensure that dispositions are honored as written and without delay.
Look into creating a trust
A trust is a legal relationship in which a person or grantor gives another party, known as the trustee, the responsibility of holding and managing assets for the grantor’s beneficiaries. This is an important estate planning tool for parents who want to ensure their children are taken care of should they pass away. While this may seem important only when children are minors, it can be equally important if a spouse remarries and wishes to provide a lifetime trust plan for their surviving spouse while ensuring that what remains unused by them will pass to their children, and to assign a percentage or specific assets of their estate to pass directly to their children rather than their spouse at their death.
A trustee can be another person, the grantor’s legal representation, or a neutral third-party, like a bank. It’s best to choose a trustee that does not have a personal connection to you, your spouse, or either of your children. A co-trustee arrangement, naming the spouse and one of the deceased’s children, may also work if that child and the spouse are able to work together to fulfill the intentions of the deceased as set forth in the trust provisions.
Creating a trust makes sure that your money and property can go to your children when they are mature enough to manage it themselves, or delayed into later adulthood to give them a nest egg when they might need it most. The trustee is responsible for distributing these assets, not your spouse. Once your minor children come of age, the trustee can bestow the assets to the beneficiaries.
Speak as a family
Creating an estate plan for your blended family can become complicated. There are so many different parties involved and sometimes their interests may be conflicting. This is why when any changes are made to a Will, all of the affected parties should be notified.
When drafting a Will, families need to ensure that there is meaningful and clear communication amongst all parties. Everyone’s concerns must be addressed, even if that means disappointing some people.
Get help with your blended family’s estate planning needs
Creating an estate plan for your blended family? Contact the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor to schedule a free consultation and discuss your specific situation.