In the United States, the nuclear family made of only married parents and children is not as common as you would think. The term was popularized back in the 1920s, and at its peak in the 1970s, nuclear families only made up 40% of American households. Nowadays, the number is down to 18% and falling. In fact, blended families, where at least one partner has a child from a previous relationship, are far more common today. The U.S. Bureau of Census estimates that 40% of families in the U.S. are blended.
But when both partners have children from previous relationships, and then have children of their own, how does estate planning work in this instance? The documents are more or less the same, but what provisions should you consider that you wouldn’t in a nuclear family? With children from so many different types of families, making sure that they are all provided for by all of their parents is of the utmost importance.
If you’re unsure about how to proceed with your will or trust, contact the estate planning attorney at Tressler & Associates for help.
Estate Planning for Blended Families
Even if only one partner has children from a previous marriage, there are still issues that need to be addressed when making your will or a trust. In blended families, parents need to establish in their estate documents how they should spread their estate between the children depending on which parent passes away first. Then there’s the matter of handling arrangements from previous divorces. And while it may seem like a sore subject, there’s no guarantee that all relationships don’t ever sour. It’s important to make sure that the surviving spouse can’t hurt the inheritance of their stepchildren in any way.
There are a few solutions to solving these problems within a will. When you and your spouse create your wills, you can list and specifically divide non-marital assets for your children and stepchildren. An experienced estate planning attorney can walk you through how to do this. The idea is to make sure that each child has something left to them that the other spouse or another child can’t claim.
Non-marital assets are property that a spouse owns before they were married. In most cases, anything one spouse purchases is a marital property they co-own with their spouse. The only exceptions are businesses, certain inherited properties, and anything that’s also co-owned with a third party outside the marriage.
This solution doesn’t solve every problem. If one spouse still has responsibilities from a previous divorce, such as alimony or an agreed-upon payment plan, a third party can claim their property or wealth post-death. This solution also can’t pass marital property from a parent to their child if the stepparent is the surviving spouse. There are other solutions for that.
Creating Specialized Trusts
Trusts are different from wills in that they contain the rights to a property. When you put something in a trust, it stops being your marital property, and the property of the trust’s recipient instead. If there’s something you want to pass down to one or more of your children, you would put them into a trust.
You can’t place all types of property into a trust, such as insurance, vehicles, and retirement funds. For these, you would need to use a different method through those providers, but the process isn’t entirely different from establishing a trust.
With a trust, you can also set specific standards and instructions for inheritance. If you only want to pass a certain amount of assets to your children under specific circumstances, such as if they were unmarried or unwell, you can. If your spouse passes away before you, you may want to leave your stepchildren an inheritance if what they receive from your spouse isn’t enough.
Avoid These Common Mistakes When Estate Planning for Blended Families
There are several mistakes that, if not rectified or avoided, can ruin all the work you’ve done with your wills and trusts. A quality attorney will suggest that you make sure you haven’t made a mistake in the following ways.
Not Settling Previous Marriages
Things like child support and alimony don’t always end early once you remarry. Remarriage only ends alimony if the spouse receiving alimony gets remarried. If the spouse paying alimony is remarried, they still have to continue their payments.
Child support also doesn’t end when a parent gets remarried. Child support only ends early if the parent paying child support terminates their parental rights. Make sure to settle alimony and child support payments or protect your children’s inheritance with trusts so a previous partner cannot claim payment from your estate.
Avoiding Pre-nuptial and Post-nuptial Agreements
Prenups, and their post-marriage counterparts, postnups, get an unearned reputation. While they can be seen as a sign of mistrust, if offered respectfully, they should be a sign of trust from one spouse to the other. If you and/or your spouse require specific estate assets to go to your or their children or that all children be treated equally in their inheritance, these agreements can establish that from the beginning.
Not Updating Old Wills
Old wills are not invalid until you make them so. Getting remarried doesn’t invalidate your old will, and making a new one doesn’t automatically invalidate them either. While a new will technically supersedes an old one, there are many instances where a potential beneficiary can argue for an inheritance or an improved inheritance based on an old will. Update or destroy your old will to be safe.
Contact Tressler & Associates for Help with Estate Planning for Your Blended Family
Families are complicated, and parents deserve all the help they can get for their children, blended families even more so. If you’re unsure how to handle your estate and make sure it provides for all of your children, contact the estate planning attorney at Tressler & Associates. We have the experience to make sure you have everything you need and are prepared for every outcome.