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Estate Planning for Blended Families

For purposes of estate planning, a blended family is one where married couples have children from previous relationships or marriages.  These families can include step children, half siblings, or even extended family members who live in the same household.

It is very important to revisit your estate plan after a divorce or remarriage, especially when children are involved.  The only way to make sure your children are protected in these situations is to have an estate plan in place that reflects your wishes.  Many times it is necessary to revoke documents you already have in place and to re-draft your will or trust to account for your new circumstances.

What are the best planning options for blended families?

No two estate plans are the same, and that goes for blended family plans as well.  Your particular plan will depend on your wishes for your spouse and respective children, so it’s important to spend time with your spouse, and perhaps other family members, to discuss your goals and objectives for your plan to avoid discord and conflict down the road.

Some considerations to discuss are:

The nature of your assets.  What types of property do you own?  Real estate, vehicles, investments, retirement accounts, and personal property should all be identified.

Who will inherit your assets.  Perhaps the biggest challenge is deciding where your assets will go.  You should strive to ensure that your spouse, your children, and your spouse’s children are all provided for.

Your children’s needs.  You’ll need to choose a guardian for your minor children to ensure they are protected.  And perhaps a trust funded to cover education and other expenses is in order.

Your spouse’s wishes.  For your plans to work together, you must be on the same page with your spouse, even if your estate plans have different objectives.  It’s possible to have wishes that differ than your spouse’s built in to a comprehensive plan for your blended family.

Special considerations for blended families

In a typical estate plan, a spouse will leave all or most of their assets to the other spouse to enjoy for their lifetime and perhaps some assets to their children, either outright or in trust.  However, when children from a previous marriage are involved, crafting a plan can become a little more complicated.

In blended family situations, the surviving spouse still typically enjoys the bequeathed assets for their lifetime, but the deceased spouse may retain the right (via trust) to distribute their remaining assets to their own children when the surviving spouse passes.  Terms can even be added that restrict the surviving spouse’s access to the deceased spouse’s assets should the surviving spouse remarry again.  While these can be difficult conversations, they are essential to developing a plan that protects the children of the blended family and ensures everyone is treated fairly and in line with the spouses’ desires.

Estate planning for a blended family can be complicated, but with the help of an experienced attorney a plan that encourages family harmony is entirely achievable.

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This article is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to be legal, financial, or tax advice. The information provided herein was accurate at the time of publication and is subject to change without notice. We recommend that you consult an estate planning attorney or a tax advisor to discuss how current laws apply to your situation.

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