The Brady Bunch made it all seem so simple, didn’t it? Two lovely families seamlessly merging into one big happy blended family complete with a well-trained dog, a cheerful housekeeper and a skilled butcher. Pure bliss!
Is your blended family life anything like that? If it is, that’s great to hear. You’re probably the one in a thousand.
But if you’re like most other blended families, you know the Brady Bunch left out an awful lot of the real-world facts of life. Facts like scheduling teacher conferences, negotiating healthcare plans, managing child support plans and visitation schedules, etc….
While I can’t do much to help you with some of the busy realities of raising a blended family, I can help you negotiate some of the challenges of estate planning and creating a last will when stepchildren are involved.
This post will address some of the issues that often arise when I’m working on estate planning with blended families. Chances are, some or even many of these common issues may be on your mind as well.
Typical Wills for Blended Families
Many blended families want to take steps to ensure all children are treated equally — or close to equally — when planning their estate. This is often the case when both of the spouses came to the marriage with roughly equal assets and earning potential. As well, many spouses share a goal to try to do everything possible to protect the feelings of one another and the children.
In situations such as this, a last will might be constructed so that all assets are left to the surviving spouse. The surviving spouse then may choose to retain the assets until his or her death, and distribute assets among all surviving children and stepchildren. Alternatively, he or she could create a new will, distributing assets altogether differently.
While this approach seems simple now, it can become complicated over time and lead to some hurt feelings. For example, if the relationship between the surviving spouse and stepchildren grows more distant or strained, the survivor may choose to change the will and exclude the stepchildren.
Surviving biological children may resent any distribution of assets to the stepchildren, leading to complications with their parent.
For these reasons and others, it is more common to take a slightly more complex approach to estate planning for today’s blended families.
Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way
One approach that can ensure the children of both spouses receive assets regardless of which spouse passes away first is to structure their will so that a specific amount or percentage is left to each child.
This way, the surviving spouse cannot create a new will that disinherits or disproportionately leaves out the stepchildren. In these cases, the parents may choose to purchase a life insurance policy that specifically names their own children as beneficiaries.
Another approach is to create a joint trust between the spouses. I work with many families in creating a certain type of trust called a revocable trust. There are many positives to creating a revocable trust. Blended families with stepchildren is one of them.
A revocable trust makes it simple to protect surviving children and grandchildren. It legally defines who gets what when either spouse dies, who is in charge of the assets as trustee, and makes it very difficult for the state to get any of the assets.
A revocable trust is particularly helpful in cases in which a child of a blended family has special needs provided for with a Special Needs Trust (SNT). In these situations, the revocable trust can “house” the SNT, protecting the assets and their future distribution.
Helping Arizona families protect their assets is my professional mission, and it would be my pleasure to help you create a will that considers your blended family and protects your assets. If you are the parent or stepparent of a special needs child, I can also assist you with creating a special needs trust to provide for the child’s long-term care.
Please contact me today to schedule a free consultation. Together, we will review your current estate and discuss your best options for protecting your assets, your children and stepchildren now and after your death.
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