Estate Planning for Blended Families

According to data from the United States Census Bureau, approximately 16 percent of children in the United States currently reside in blended family households. Blended families include those with at least one stepparent, stepsibling, or half-sibling.blended family

When developing an estate plan, careful consideration should be given to the treatment of both biological and non-biological children. In many cases, stepchildren receive equal treatment as biological children in regards to inheritance, particularly when they have been part of the blended family since a young age. However, biological family members may perceive an unequal distribution of inheritance if assets pass to stepchildren. Likewise, a surviving spouse's biological children could feel their expected inheritance is impacted.

Transferring inheritances

Effective estate planning is crucial for blended families to facilitate a smooth transfer of assets according to the deceased's wishes. Standard probate and intestacy laws do not always treat biological and non-biological children equivalently. Open communication regarding estate plans also helps manage beneficiaries' expectations.

Striking an equitable balance among heirs can prove challenging. While one may hope family works through details independently, avoiding common mistakes prevents unnecessary hardship. Carve out time to prioritize goals and decide how to apportion all accumulated assets, including real estate, vehicles, personal property, investments, retirement accounts, and insurance. Ensure any non-probate transfers are excluded to maintain accurate estate documentation. Even seemingly insignificant items may be expected by certain beneficiaries.

Trusts are a great estate planning tool for blended families

The overarching aim is reducing family tensions. An experienced estate planning attorney can identify optimal solutions and help navigate complex family dynamics.

Trusts are often implemented for blended families. Assets can transfer to a surviving spouse for life then to designated children, ensuring all beneficiaries are provided for.  Whether utilizing a revocable or an irrevocable trust, proper planning is essential when your part of a blended family.  Working with a knowledgeable estate planning professional can ensure that your estate plan transfers assets to the beneficiaries you intended.

Recognize the potential for will contests

Blended family parents should recognize potential will contests from stepchildren treated unequally in a prior will. Stepchildren lack inheritance claims without a named bequest. Consult an experienced estate planning attorney well-versed in blended family nuances to craft durable, legally-sound documentation upholding your final objectives.

While separate wills can initially mirror intentions, a later spouse may alter their estate plan contrary to original agreements. Stepchildren could then contest the modified instrument. Reciprocal or mutual wills also usually lack binding authority without explicit contractual language. Trusts provide the most reliable method of benefiting a spouse during life then children thereafter.

With guidance from qualified legal counsel, blended families can develop estate plans upholding each party's unique wishes and protecting beneficiaries from potential disputes.

Consult with an Estate Planning Attorney

As qualified Brooklyn Estate Planning attorneys, Alatsas Law Firm can help you navigate the challenges of estate planning for a blended family.  Call us to schedule a consultation.

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