Blended Families Have Unique Estate Planning Needs

There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all estate planning, and that’s especially true when it comes to blended families in Massachusetts.

When you think about it, even “nuclear families” (a husband and wife who’ve never been married before and maybe have a couple of kids together) have their work cut out for them when creating estate plans. Most families have amassed their fair share of assets — even if it’s just a trove of trinkets with little more than sentimental value. Fairly providing for everybody in the family takes times and consideration.

Add divorce, second marriages, stepparents, and step kids to the mix? Then things really get complicated.

I recently came across a helpful article on this subject in Gannett’s The Spectrum, an online news magazine. It focuses on the single biggest estate-planning dilemma that any member of a blended family faces: balancing the many competing interests in a network of “exes” and “steps” who might not see eye to eye.

“Your challenge,” Spectrum tells blended families, “is to divide your assets among your heirs according to your wishes, while minimizing both estate tax and animosity among family members.” Easier said than done! With the right strategies in place, though, it can be accomplished.

In “nuclear” or “original” marriages, there is a temptation among spouses to simply leave everything to each other. That isn’t an ideal approach for anyone, but it’s especially problematic in the blended context.

Consider, for example, someone who had kids in her first marriage and then remarried and had additional children in the second marriage. Leaving everything to the new spouse might more or less take care of that second family (though not without some potential problems), but what about the children from the first marriage?

Of course, that’s just one example of the “blenders’ burden.” Families are complicated and so are the laws of inheritance. There is a lot to consider, so it’s generally not a good idea to try to square everything away on your own.
If you’re in a blended family, it might be time to update your estate plan to account for the latest changes in your life. If you’d like some experienced counsel and advice along the way, I’d be happy to help. Just give me a call.

Estate Planning for the Modern Family

Families come in all shapes, forms, and sizes. As a matter of fact, non-traditional families now outnumber the “traditional” husband-wife-and-children household in America by a margin of about 2%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 report.

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Increasingly, clients ask for legal protection for people that might not be covered under conventional estate law— unmarried partners, roommates, members of a blended family, or friends. After all, formal laws don’t change as quickly as the times.

If you’re thinking about how your loved ones may or may not be taken care of after you pass away, it’s important for you to realize that the law doesn’t always see your family the way you do.

You may love someone and spend your life with them, for instance, but state law may still regard that person as a total stranger.

At the end of the day, you decide who matters to you. And you decide the people you want to protect once you’re gone. State statutes may or may not align with your intentions, but an experienced attorney can help you craft legally effective documents that will ensure your wishes are honored in the future.

Safeguarding the modern family might take a few extra steps in the attorney’s office, but when it comes to the people who matter most, it’s worth it.

Estate Planning With A Second Family In Mind

More and more people are getting married a second time and find themselves with two families. Estate planning for one family is hard enough, but it can be quite complex if you have a second one to provide for.

That’s why I thought it would be helpful for me to post this article I found on Yahoo Finance last week. It deals with the issues that families with a mix of biological children, stepchildren, first spouses and second spouses must face.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you find yourself in this position, you don’t want to leave your heirs from the two families to fight it out over who gets what. The article lists the six most important things to remember when estate planning for a blended family.

Here are the six things to keep in mind, at least as outlined in the article:

  • It depends on how long your family has been together. If you and your second spouse married when your children were still young, or you had children together, you are really one big family. You should proceed with your will as if all your children were your biological children and your second spouse is your first spouse. But if your children were teenagers or adults when you remarried, things are different. You may want to make separate provisions for your biological children and your stepchildren.
  • Make provisions for your second spouse, but first make plans to provide for your children immediately. They should not have to wait until your second spouse dies before getting an inheritance.
  • Make a plan for your home. If your children grew up in your home, they may have more of a claim to it than does your second spouse. If they never grew up there, it belongs to your second spouse.
  • Taxes are less important than family harmony. Equal distribution may trump taxes, If you leave everything to your spouse to save on taxes, your children won’t be happy.
  • Communicate with everyone, either one at a time or as a group. It may be uncomfortable, but it will work out better, especially if you tell them your ideas and ask for their input.
  • Make sure you have the right experts. The right estate planning lawyer and financial planner are critical. You may even need a family therapist.

Planning for blended families can be challenging. But each family’s circumstances are different. I would be happy to review the options that best suit your family’s particular situation.