Blended Families And Estate Planning

Wedding ceremony, blended family, mixing sands as a new family. Close up view hands of bride and groom doing sand ceremony during wedding, blended family.

Estate planning for blended families is a complex subject. Many couples often bring children into a marriage from a prior relationship, and sometimes they also then have children together. This mix of children and new spouses is referred to as a blended family. Blended families highlight the need for careful estate planning to make sure the needs of each spouse are met while also, at times, protecting the inheritance for each spouse’s children. The process is particularly challenging because an absolute answer for determining how property should be handled does not exist.

Relationships Within a Blended Family

When two adults marry, they have built a relationship together. Not always, though, do any children they bring to that marriage have the same joy over this union. If one spouse is significantly younger, the older spouse’s children might actually be closer in age to the new step-parent than their new step-siblings. There can also be sibling rivalry among children from different parents. Add a new child in, and the complications grow even more. While the relationships during life are complicated, add death, grief, and potential unintended disinheritances, and bitterness might be what lasts the longest for the children.

Blended Families and Property Division

Many spouses want to make sure they provide for the surviving spouse after death, but as parents, they also often want to ensure that some assets will pass to their own children or grandchildren. However, without careful estate planning, there is no guarantee that their children will inherit those assets. In fact, if the couple creates identical wills such that their assets pass to the survivor of them, there is a significant likelihood their children will be disinherited. And family heirlooms may very likely wind up with someone who is not related to the family member who originally had that property.

With mirror-image wills, everything passes to the surviving spouse. Then, though, that spouse can do as he or she pleases with those assets. For example, that surviving spouse can change his or her will to leave everything to that person’s children. After all, a will can be changed at any time. This can result in the surviving spouse excluding the stepchildren, who then receive nothing. And if the surviving spouse remarries, the complications expand even more.

Beneficiary Designations in Blended Families

Another common occurrence is for each spouse to name the other as a beneficiary on accounts or pieces of real property. Doing so will not allow the bank account, piece of property, or other type of asset to pass to anyone else, regardless of what their estate planning documents provide.

Using a Trust for a Blended Family

A trust can allow a spouse/parent to make sure assets are set aside for that person’s children. Properly drafted, this set-aside can also be used for the surviving spouse if needs arise. The trust can even be further protected if the surviving spouse remarries. With this type of planning, each spouse can have the assurance that their share of the trust assets (often one half of the total or what that spouse brought to the marriage) will pass to their children, grandchildren, or any other person they wish. The remaining assets are used for the surviving spouse and will then pass as that spouse wishes.

Estate Planning for Blended Families

Property division for blended families is more complex than average; this makes it even more important to have a well-drafted estate plan that explains your wishes and distributes your property as intended. Without a solid and clear plan in place, many families, especially blended families, have disagreements over the distribution of the inheritance. These disputes can be costly and time-consuming. Planning now can help avoid potential problems.

Plans like these aren’t completed in one day. It takes time and careful thought to consider each person in your family and the assets that you manage. And because estate planning requires state-specific guidance, it is especially important to work with an estate-planning attorney who is familiar with the rules in your state.

Some of the considerations in getting started with your plan include the following types of questions:

  • Should the majority of my assets go to my own children?
  • Should the inheritance be shared with my stepchildren?
  • How much of my estate must go to my spouse?
  • Should I provide for my ex-spouse too?
  • How can I protect an inheritance from my daughter- or son-in-law?
  • Can I decide when and how heirs can use their inheritance?
  • Should I provide an inheritance outright and with no stipulations?
  • If a beneficiary passes away before I do, who should inherit that share?
  • Is there a possibility of my spouse disenfranchising my heirs?
  • Who would be the most trustworthy, responsible executor or trustee?

I help families of all types plan so that their savings, home, and other property passes the way they intend. This involves getting to know you and your family and having a complete understanding of each spouse’s wishes. If you’d like to learn more about options for planning or to discuss your particular situation, please give me a call. Please contact McCreary Law Office or call the Jacksonville, FL office at 904-425-9046 or the Houston, TX office at 713-568-8600.