When Estate Planning and Blended Families Meet
With the holidays upon us, many people are ringing in the New Year with a new spouse! Here are some things to consider if your unique situation involves a blended family.
1. I’m married to my second spouse, but my spouse and children from my first marriage (or prior relationship) get along really well. Why would I need to consider estate planning? They may be getting along well now, but there’s no telling what will happen after your death. The court records are full of cases that could be said to have begun with these exact facts. Estate planning puts you in charge and allows you to make sure everyone that’s important to you - your new spouse and your children from a prior marriage or relationship - understands your wishes. This greatly reduces the risk of conflict and, in some cases, can completely eliminate conflict.
2. I have my bank accounts and cars in joint tenancy with my new spouse, so why would I need a will or trust? Joint tenancy typically does avoid probate and is often better than no planning. However, if you and your spouse were to die at the same time then the joint tenancy is “broken” and your respective halves would have to go through probate. Additionally, if your new spouse survives you, then he or she owns all of the property that was jointly owned. Even if the two of you agreed that your children prior to this marriage should be supported or left an inheritance, your new spouse owns the property and can do whatever he or she wants with the property. This could completely disinherit your prior children. There are additional considerations where your home is concerned, too!
3. If my children are happily married and I’m in a stable, long-term marriage, why should I worry about divorce or the estate planning issues “blended” families experience? Even if none of your children are divorced now, the statistics show that many couples will experience a divorce. Estate planning reduces the risk that your death could be a financial windfall for a soon-to-be-ex-spouse, which can happen if you die at the “wrong” time. It’s wise to hope for the best but plan for the worst, so that your family can be fully protected.
4. How do I balance the interests of my children and my spouse from a second marriage?
We’ll help you set up an estate plan that protects and provides for whomever you’d like - often that’s children and, sometimes, a second or third spouse. Your estate plan, likely including trusts, will be carefully crafted to balance the interests of your children as well as your spouse. Without proper planning, too many parents accidentally disinherit their beloved children and cause havoc (and expensive lawsuits) in blended families. But with proper planning, you can take care of everyone’s needs in an equitable way that reduces the risk of expensive conflict.