Estate Planning Tips for Blended Families
Estate planning poses special challenges for a blended family — usually defined as a family unit in which one or both spouses have children from prior relationships. This merger of families often results from a second marriage after a divorce or death. Blended families can include stepmothers, stepfathers, stepchildren, step-siblings and half siblings. Estate planning efforts can be complex due to the myriad relationships involved and the potential conflicts that can arise.
Texas is a community property state, so a surviving spouse in a second marriage is entitled to half of a decedent’s estate, with the rest going to the decedent’s children. The laws governing inheritance do not apply to step relationships. Unless a formal adoption takes place, a stepchild is not automatically entitled to a share in the estate. As such, any bequest or gift made to them must be specified in a will or trust. The situation becomes more complex if there are children born of the second marriage.
Here are some tips for estate planning in blended families:
- Consider a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement — Such a contract can spell out the property rights of spouses, children and stepchildren both during the marriage and after a divorce. It can also define property rights upon the death of either spouse. This is common when a remarried parent wants to ensure his or her own children will receive shares of the other spouse’s estate.
- Discuss planning goals among family members — Relationships in blended families are sometimes marked by animosity, jealousy and ill will among certain members. As such, any ambiguities or oversights in wills, trusts or other estate planning documents could easily result in challenges to the distribution of property. The more transparency there is in the estate planning process, the better the chance that clear and complete instructions will be given.
- Identify beneficiaries — Your will and/or trust should state in detail who will be getting your accumulated wealth and in what percentages. If there are specific assets that should go to particular family members, such as children of a prior marriage, these assets should be itemized.
- Provide for your surviving spouse while protecting heirs — You may set up a trust that gives your spouse control of part of your estate during his or her lifetime, with the remainder then going to designated beneficiaries.
- Plan for contingencies — Your will and/or trust should provide for who gets a specific bequest or gift if the original intended beneficiary cannot receive the property for whatever reason.
It is advisable to have a qualified estate planning attorney select and draft documents essential to making sure that bequests and gifts are made according to your wishes.
The Law Offices of Kevan I. Benkowitz in Plano, Texas has a full-service estate planning practice. We will thoroughly assess your needs and ensure that the appropriate legal documents are prepared. Feel free to contact us online or call 972-464-2645 for an initial consultation.