Blended families pose unique challenges for estate planning

| Feb 18, 2020 | Probate Litigation

It is quite common for a second or third marriage to be the one that carried a property owner into retirement and death. Ideally, there is the hope that the blended family with children from previous marriages and subsequent spouses functions as harmoniously as the Brady Bunch.

However, complicated estates or family relationships can lead to a variety of potential areas of dispute. The property owner may conceive and raise more children with a subsequent spouse or adopt the spouse’s children. Even without additional children, a subsequent spouse may assume control of the estate upon the death of the property owner if there are no arrangements or original plans may be revised to favor the subsequent family over the original one.

Determining a course of action

It is the best course of action to draft a legally binding estate plan that includes a will and other arrangements so the family can focus on their grieving process and supporting each other. Essential tips to remember include:

  • Using a simple will is a bad idea: Leaving everything to a spouse may not make sense because it cuts children from previous marriages out of the will. This can be especially problematic if there is a family business or other assets associated with an earlier marriage.
  • Consider a trust: The property owner can create a trust to ensure that spouses are cared for during their life with assets then passing to the biological children.
  • An experienced trustee helps: Complicated trusts need ongoing maintenance by someone with a sound understanding of finance. A neutral trustee can also avoid appearances of bias.
  • Plan for remarriage: A subsequent spouse may wish to remarry after the property owner dies, which further puts family-based assets at risk.
  • Move at least some assets to children upon death: This can avoid resentment towards a stepparent.
  • Identify who makes health care decisions: It is often best to pick someone who can make important decisions (aligned with the wishes of the property owner) regarding the care of an elderly or disabled parent or loved one.

Putting off these decisions can cause unnecessary harm

The death of a parent can leave families rudderless and grieving. This can lead to rash statements, feelings of alienation, and, unfortunately, radical shifts in the family dynamic. This often leads to litigation as family members fight for their beliefs of fair and equitable solutions that honor the wishes of the decedent.

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