First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes dividing our estate between our blended family of adult children.
That’s how that school-yard rhyme goes, right?
If that’s not how you remember it, you’re not alone! When you remarry, you have a unique set of concerns to address when you are considering a blended family and your estate.
In a blended family, estate-planning issues can include:
- Potentially (unintentionally) disinheriting children
- Delayed inheritance
- Protecting assets from ex-spouses, former partners, or other family members
- Conflicts regarding responsibility and authority
How can you mitigate these problems so you can enjoy your happily ever after without worrying about your kids? (At least not more than you already do.)
How common is this issue?
Let’s take a second to address how common this question really is – extremely! It’s a very common concern for families to have. Blended families, which refers to any family where at least one (but often both) of the spouses have children from a prior marriage or relationship, are increasingly commonplace and that means these issues pop up more often.
Here are a few stats to consider:
- Over 50% of families in America are remarried or recoupled
- 1 out of every 3 Americans is either a step-parent, a step-child, or has some other form of a blended family
- 65% of remarriages involve children from a prior marriage on at least one side
What can you do now?
The key to minimizing issues in estate planning is crafting a well-thought-out estate plan. Easier said than done, though. Estate planning can be stressful even in non-blended families.
Here are some strategies that are helpful when figuring out a path forward.
Pre- and post-nuptial agreements
If you’re recently engaged or considering marriage with a blended family, a prenuptial agreement can head off a lot of estate planning problems before they start. While it may not seem like the most romantic gesture, the security a prenuptial agreement offers both you and your intended is better than a bouquet of roses. (And longer lasting, too)
Even if you’re already married, a postnuptial agreement may still be an option for you.
Start your estate plan early
The tradition of leaving your assets to your surviving spouse, who will then pass them on to your children after their death, is a model that works pretty well for the nuclear family of the 20th century. But as we’ve mentioned, family life can look pretty different these days.
To figure out what will work best for your family, however it looks, the best thing to do is to start early and communicate openly.
A common approach is to sort out what’s “yours, mine, and ours” and plan accordingly, so you do not unintentionally disinherit your current spouse or any of your children. Consider what everyone’s – yours, your spouse’s, and your blended family’s – financial needs are both now and in the future.
Where might there be points of contention? What can you agree is fair to everyone?
If this seems like it will be difficult to hash out between the two of you, consider involving a financial advisor or attorney experienced in estate planning to help facilitate the conversation.
Consider setting up a trust
Although it has been the practice for married people to bequeath everything to one another in their wills, approaches are shifting for blended families. Why? There is less assurance that children from a previous relationship would receive an equitable distribution of assets following the death of their stepparent.
One way to determine in advance how assets are distributed to place them in a trust. Trusts allow for money to be accessible to a surviving spouse for the duration of their life, but also ensures that the remainder goes to your children upon their death.
Trusts are a great option for blended families because they can be set up in a variety of ways depending on your needs. They also help mitigate estate tax issues, depending on how they are created.
Review retirement and insurance policies
Have you considered how your retirement funds, pension, and insurance policies play into your estate planning? Besides providing significant benefits for your spouse and children (both biological and step), these assets have the added benefit of allowing you to name multiple individuals as beneficiaries.
A point to consider, though: if you’re divorced, make sure that you’ve updated your policies. If you don’t, you risk these funds going to your ex instead.
Your estate plan may look different than you anticipated when you have a blended family, but making sure everyone is taken care of doesn’t have to be a contentious process. Communicating honestly with your spouse and children about your intent can ease much of the strain. It’s completely understandable to want to make sure your children are well taken care of, no matter what the situation.
And, of course, nothing replaces good old-fashioned planning ahead. An attorney experienced in estate planning and asset protection can make these discussions and decisions easier for you and your family. Contact Shann M. Chaudry, Esq. for a free consultation to learn more about your options.