When you have a mixture of children and parents of various marriages and biological/legal relationships, you have what’s called a “blended family.” If your family is blended, be careful when planning your estate and make sure you understand the difficulties at hand.
Granted, every family is unique. This is especially true of blended families. Some are created early in life and others are formed later in life. One or both spouses may be widowed or divorced, even multiple times with multiple “sets” of children from prior relationships. The family dynamics - and the family tree - can get complicated very quickly.
When inheritance issues are added to the other family dynamics, everything can explode like nitro and glycerin shaken together. Who will inherit what, when will they inherit and who will control the inheritance? Simple questions, but not-so-simple answsers. The Poughkeepsie Journal recently considered this topic in an article titled “Plan estate carefully for blended family.”
As the article notes, one of the most important things blended families must do is to put their estate plans and wishes in writing. One of the biggest mistakes we see with blended families is that they avoid dealing with the difficult topic of estate planning until it is too late, and then discover that the law isn't going to divide a deceased spouse's estate the way everyone assumed it would. Without a will or trust to guide who gets what and when, certain family members may find themselves unexpectedly - and unintentionally - out in the cold. This can really become a problem when there are adult stepchildren who may not get along with the surviving spouse, or minor children who end up inheriting a significant portion of the deceased's assets. Unless plans are made to make sure both the spouse and children will be provided for, someone will likely come up short.
In addition, careful planning is necessary to make sure that both spouses will be able to find appropriate medical care in their later years. For example, the ownership of assets becomes significant when applying for government benefits such as Medicaid - and for Medicaid purposes, plans made in prenuptial agreements are ignored. So even if you think you've addressed everything in a prenuptial agreement, you should consult with a qualified attorney to make sure that your plans will hold up under a variety of possible circumstances.
As you imagine, communication is key. Blended families who are open and share at least the general contours and goals of their estate plans have fewer problems. But sometimes the dynamics of the blended and extended family are so tense that problems and disagreements are almost a given. What do you do then? No matter what your planning wishes are, adding no-contest or similar provisions to your estate plan is one option to hinder "family troublemakers" from challenging your wishes after you're gone. Other estate planning tools, such as trusts and certain will provisions, can also be quite useful in shoring up your plans against a future challenge.
The bottom line: estate planning is not a DIY project, especially when it comes to blended families. And a little smart planning now can save a whole lot of confusion and trouble later.
For more information about estate planning options for your blended family, or to discuss your other estate planning questions, contact us at Peak Legal Group.
Reference: The Poughkeepsie Journal (February 23, 2013) “Plan estate carefully for blended family”