The term “blended family” has become commonplace in our society and refers to a family where one or both spouses were previously married and have children from the prior marriage. In some instances, the new couple goes on to have children of their own. With children, stepchildren, and ex-spouses involved, estate planning can get quite complex.

When you are trying to take all the different interests involved with your blended family into account, you need help to ensure you provide for everyone adequately; and to ensure you avoid conflict after your death or incapacity, as that’s quite common in blended family situations.

Without a well-crafted estate plan to establish how you want your surviving spouse and children to receive your assets, the distributions made pursuant to the law (or a poorly drafted plan) could lead to tremendous conflict among your loved ones and significant unintended consequences. To create a comprehensive estate plan that achieves the results you want, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced lawyer.

Deciding how to divide your wealth and assets between your surviving spouse and your biological children can be difficult.

If you are close with your stepchildren or you have adopted them, you must take their interests into account as well. This means that you may need to address issues such as child custody and support once you are gone.

You will also want to avoid mistakes such as:

  • Your children being unintentionally disinherited (by everything going to your spouse)
  • Your children’s inheritance being postponed until your spouse dies (that’s often the fastest path to family conflict)
  • Your ex-spouse making a claim on your estate (including old life insurance policies)
  • Family fighting or litigation over your estate or to gain the authority to act
  • Your family not getting the full benefit of your life insurance policies you so diligently and smartly secured (and paid lots of premiums on!)

A recent article in The Street, titled 6 Things to Consider When Estate planning for Your Second Family,” lists 6 things you should consider when planning your estate with a second family:

(1) How Long Your Family Has Been Together – If your children and stepchildren all grew up together as part of the same family, then it makes sense to treat them equally in an estate plan. However, if your children were adults when you remarried, then they should be treated differently than stepchildren.

(2) Provide for Your Children Immediately – You do want to provide for your second spouse.  On the other hand, you do not want your adult children to wait until their stepmother dies to receive their inheritances.

(3) Plan for the Home – Make sure that you have a plan in place for your spouse to either keep the home or find somewhere else to live.

(4) Think About Family Happiness Before Taxes – It might not be possible to keep everyone happy in a way that minimizes the estate tax. In this case, family harmony should probably come first to avoid costly litigation over the estate.

(5) Communication – Make sure everyone knows what they are getting and why.

(6) Hire an Attorney – With a blended family it is imperative that you hire an attorney to make sure that your estate plan is properly structured.

With so many issues to consider, it is necessary to make these decisions while you are healthy and you have the time to create the best strategy for drafting your estate plan whether you have a lot of money or not.

There are a lot of do-it-yourself options for just about everything these days, including for estate planning. However, your family, their life, and their well-being are unique.  Their needs cannot be properly addressed by some generic one-size-fits all template.  Blended families need the personalized and customized attention to navigate the complexities, pitfalls, and conflict that might arise without such specialized estate planning.  That is why we encourage you to seek the help of an estate planning attorney in your area to be your trusted advisor to help you navigate this process.

If you want to learn more about how you can protect your blended family and you live in the Irvine, Orange County, or Southern California area, please contact the team at Snyder Law.  We will be happy to discuss with you how you can implement thoughtful estate planning to minimize the chance of family conflict and ensure your wishes are carried out when you are gone.

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