Everybody has a complicated family. For some that means drama or estrangement. For many, it means divorce, remarriage, and blended families. TV shows like Modern Family highlight that detail today, but it’s a long-running American concept – just think back to old episodes of The Brady Bunch.
Blended families are common. More than half of US families are blended, Forbes reports. When it comes to our autumn years and estate planning, it’s important to consider each family’s dynamics, and to make sure that the will or trust doesn’t have any loopholes or open ends. With an estate plan, you should plan for the worst – not because that it likely to happen, but to make sure that you have a process defined just in case. Given the complexity of blended families, that’s even more important.
Like everything else, families change
Perhaps you remarried early in life and merged two families harmoniously. Stepbrothers and stepsisters think of each other as brothers and sisters, without the prefix. While that may be the situation in your household, it is not the situation at the courthouse. Most probate administration is defined by blood relation. Even with a will or trust established, it’s easy to overlook scenarios that lead to conflict and confusion.
Take this basic scenario: You’ve passed away and your second spouse inherits your property. Years pass and she grows distant from your biological children. Then she passes away, leaving the assets to her own biological children. It may not have been intentional, but in this situation, your own children are missing out on family heirlooms and property. It’s more common than you might think.
6 ways to plan for the unknown
To avoid situations like this, Forbes provides six basics that any blended family should consider in an estate plan. Three tips are for administration of the estate, and three come with an eye toward the future.
- A will isn’t enough – A simple will is often too broad for the dynamics of a blended family.
- Choose an experienced trustee – Whether you go with a will, trust, or combination in your plan, experience will reduce disputes and confusion.
- Include health care directives – Both your spouse and adult children are likely to want to help when you need late-in-life health care. Include a plan so the two sides don’t fight over it.
After your death:
- Consider distributing assets to children and your spouse at the same time – In the scenario at the start, the living spouse later disinherited children. Avoid the possibility by putting it in writing from the start.
- Consider leaving inheritance to your spouse for her lifetime – A trust allows assets to be shared with a widow through her lifetime before it goes to your biological children after her passing. This way, all parties benefit from the arrangement.
- Consider that your spouse may remarry – Much like the scenario in the introduction, the future is unknown. If a widow remarries, it’s possible that your inheritance will move to a new family unless you state otherwise.
Put it in writing, make it stick
Nobody can tell the future. An estate plan’s ultimate purpose is to make sure that your wishes continue after you pass. The best way to ensure this is to create an ironclad plan that covers different scenarios so you can share with your family and continue to protect them for years to come.