By Lindsey C. Franklin
Remarriage after divorce creates uniquely blended family units that often involve navigating relationships with stepparents and children from previous marriage(s). Having complex family relationships, however, does not mean that your estate planning cannot be crafted to meet the needs of your blended family upon your death. These key estate planning tips are some of the many strategies that can help you avoid legal and financial headaches in the future:
1. Make specific provisions for family members in your will.
Spouses typically draft their Last Will and Testament to leave everything to their current spouse. In situations involving second (or successive) marriages, however, leaving everything to the current spouse creates the possibility that children from a previous marriage could be left out of an estate. This typically occurs when the current spouse feels no obligation to children that are not biologically his or her children. Therefore, if you desire to include children from a previous marriage in your estate, you should make specific provisions in your will for them.
2. Consider creating a trust for your family members.
In addition to naming family members in your will, you can place money and property in a trust for your family members. One benefit of creating a trust is that your surviving spouse can have a source of income to live on during his or her lifetime and any assets remaining in the trust at the time of your spouse's death can then pass to your biological children. Another benefit of creating a trust is that your assets will be protected in the event your surviving spouse remarries after your passing. Note that at the time the trust is created, you will need to name a trustee to manage the trust. You should therefore consider specific issues involving your blended family and name a trustee, or multiple trustees, that will be competent to manage competing interests to mitigate family conflict.
3. Utilize retirement accounts, bank accounts, and life insurance policies with beneficiary designations that account for your blended family.
Non-probate mechanisms such as life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and bank accounts allow for the transfer of assets through beneficiary designations. At the time you create the account or take out the policy, you can identify a beneficiary who will receive account assets upon your death. As time passes and major life events such as death, divorce, births, and remarriage occur, you should make it a point to regularly review and update beneficiary designations. Actively updating these designations will ensure that your assets are distributed as you intend.
4. Engage in difficult conversations with family members early on.
The complex nature of relationships in your blended family may influence details regarding your medical decisions, end-of-life care, and funeral. Openly communicating with your loved ones about your final wishes can provide them with clarity on how you want your estate to pass and may help avoid future stress and family tension.
This article pinpoints some details you should consider when planning your estate. However, we advise that you meet with an expert in estate planning and tax laws to address the specific the needs of your family. If you have questions, the attorneys of Flint, Connolly & Walker, LLP can help you create an estate plan to fit your blended family.
Lindsey C. Franklin is an associate attorney with Flint, Connolly & Walker, LLP currently representing clients on various civil matters. If you seek legal advice pertaining to blended family estate planning or other family and estate law matters, the attorneys at Flint, Connolly & Walker, LLP have the knowledge and expertise to help you.