If you have a blended family, estate planning is critical if you want your loved ones to avoid court and conflict in the event you die or become incapacitated. But planning for your blended family is also a great opportunity to strengthen your family bond through open conversations about your wishes and goals for your family and the love you have for them. Read more here …

Create a Stronger Blended Family Through Estate Planning

Blended families were once considered “non-traditional” families, but today, blended families are becoming just as common as non-blended families. Currently, 52% of married couples (or unmarried couples who live together) have some sort of step- relationship, and 4 in 10 new marriages involve remarriage.

If you are part of a blended family, you have probably recognized the extra layer of complexity that comes with planning for your family’s needs and accommodating the many relationships that exist between step-parents, step-kids, and step-siblings. Topics that might be straightforward for a “traditional” family – such as where to spend the holidays or who gets the old family car  – are more complex. In a blended family, you work hard to navigate these complexities to keep the family unified and happy.

BUT – what you might not know is that state laws dictating what happens if you become incapacitated or die are still very much still based on the traditional family model, which means that your blended family will likely end up in court and conflict without planning for life’s roller coaster in advance.

What Estate Law Says About Blended Families

Every state has different provisions for what happens when you become incapacitated or die. There’s a good chance that these laws may not reflect your wishes. Moreover, while you may see and treat your blended family members the same as you do (or even better!) than your blood relatives, the law does not.

For example, in many states, if you are survived by a spouse, your surviving spouse would only receive a part of your estate if you have living children (or parents!). And the amount your spouse receives can vary, depending on the number of children and how long you have been married. In other states, a surviving spouse may receive all of your assets, regardless of whether you have children together or separately.

As you can see, what happens to your assets when you die may not be what you wish, especially in blended families. It is so important to create an estate plan for your blended family well in advance.

And most importantly, I encourage you to discuss your plan with the members of your family to avoid hurt feelings, confusion, or pain in the future.

Avoid Conflict in Your Blended Family Through Open Communication

Estate planning is often seen as a highly private affair, but it does not have to be, and oftentimes, should not be. In the case of a blended family, having open conversations with your loved ones about your estate plan and your goals for the family can save them from hurt feelings and even court battles in the future.

Like all families, how you plan for your blended family will depend entirely on your family dynamics, your family members’ situations, and your own personal values for how an inheritance should (or should not) be received and what kind of legacy you want to leave behind.

For example, maybe you have stepkids and biological kids – but you want all of your children to inherit an equal share from you and your spouse. Or perhaps there is a large age gap between your step kids and a biological child, so you want to make sure that your youngest has the financial support they will need if something happens to you whereas the older children are able to support themselves.

Maybe you have a stepparent or step-sibling that you would want to gift a special item of yours like a watch or necklace. Well, for better or worse, a person you have a step-relationship with has no right to inherit from you under the law, unless you put your plan in writing.

You do not need to give away every detail of your Will or Trust, or tell everyone who you named to make decisions for you if you are incapacitated. Instead, start by having an open conversation about the general goal of your estate plan, such as wanting everyone to have an equal share, or that you want to provide more for your biological children because your step-children will already receive a full inheritance from their other parent.

By taking the mystery out of your estate plan goals, your stepchildren will feel included in the discussion and feel like they are knowledgeable about your plan rather than feeling tricked or hurt if they find out later that your plan does not align with the expectations they created for it in their minds.

Most importantly, let the people in your life know you value and love them, and that no matter how they are related to you, you care about them and want them to inherit not just material things from you, but also your values, stories, and legacy.

Create More Than a Plan, Create a Family Legacy

To make sure your wishes for your blended family are followed in the event of your death or incapacity, it’s essential to have a well-crafted estate plan created by an attorney experienced in serving blended families. Because of what I have seen firsthand over my 20+ years of experience in estate planning and settling estates, I know all too well the importance of planning for blended families and can help you navigate your options and desires for your family’s plan.

If you want to protect your blended family from a court battle and emotional conflict, give me a call today to schedule a Life & Legacy Planning Session. During the Session, I take the time to really get to know you and your family’s unique situation and educate you about what exactly will happen to your family under the law if something happened to you right now, so you can make confident decisions about what’s right for your family. Even more, I welcome you to invite the members of your blended family to be a part of the conversation.

This article is a service of the O’Day Law Firm PLLC. I don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why I offer a Life & Legacy Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling or emailing me today.

The content is sourced from Personal Family Lawyer® for use by Personal Family Lawyer® firms, a source believed to be providing accurate information. This material was created for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as ERISA, tax, legal, or investment advice. If you are seeking legal advice specific to your needs, such advice services must be obtained on your own separate from this educational material.