Estate Planning in Blended Families
Blended and stepfamilies are becoming increasingly common. According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2013, a staggering 42 million adults in the U.S. have been married more than once. This is up from 22 million in 1980, and up from 14 million in 1960. https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/11/14/four-in-ten-couples-are-saying-i-do-again/ In fact, while blended families were once considered “non-traditional,” today, 52% of married couples have a step-kin relationship of some kind. Despite the rise of blended family households, estate planning in blended families presents unique complexities that are not present with traditional “first” families.
When divorced individuals with children remarry, the “blending” can lead to a situation where an estate plan includes both stepparents and stepchildren. Unfortunately, when one of the parents in a blended family dies, disputes over the distribution of the estate are common between the surviving spouse and the biological children of the deceased. This is because the existence of biological relationships alongside non-biological relationships often fosters intra-familial competitions and loyalty binds.
For instance, in many cases, a stepparent will have entered the deceased’s life relatively recently, whereas the children have a lifelong relationship with the deceased. This difference in duration of the relationships often leads children to expect that their parent will leave them more assets than they will leave to their new spouse. However, many married couples wish to or feel obligated to provide for one another, even after death. Demonstrably, the interests of the surviving spouse often collide with the interests of the children of the deceased spouse.
While you cannot prevent your new spouse and your children from arguing over the assets in your estate, you can create an estate plan that provides for your spouse, without slighting your children. Given the minefield of potential tensions and disagreements in blended families, planning ahead is crucial. If you are not yet remarried, you and your new partner should consider a pre-marital agreement. A pre-marital agreement can be an important first step towards ensuring that your wishes are protected in the event of a death. If you have already remarried, some of the estate planning devices you might consider include: post-marital agreements, marital trusts, family trusts, disclaimer trusts, irrevocable life insurance trusts, life insurance beneficiary designations, retirement account beneficiary designations, and life estates for real property.
Please contact the Estate Planning attorneys at Bruning & Associates, P.C. at 815-455-3000 to schedule your complimentary consultation to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of estate planning strategies.