What Are Some of the Challenges of Estate Planning with Blended Families?

A blended family is a common situation today, with couples divorcing, remarrying, perhaps having children in the subsequent marriage, etc. There can be many challenges when it comes to estate planning in these situations, especially if one limb of the family tree has some contentious members in it. Other times, it’s simply a matter of lack of foresight; people don’t think ahead to what needs to be done as families divide and grow again. For others, thinking about estate planning is something they prefer not to do, but letting things slide can be disastrous.

Here are a few things people need to keep in mind.

  • Update your estate every time there’s a significant change. This is a big one that many people overlook. If someone divorces, remarries, dies, or has more children and is listed as a beneficiary in any estate planning document (will, trust, insurance policy, transfer-on-death bank account), it’s vital to ensure the estate plans accurately reflect any changes that need to be made. There have been cases where a second spouse discovered too late that the first spouse was never written out of the will. Depending on the size of the estate, there may be many changes that have to be made, as some estates have extensive and complex plans involved.
  • You’re not required to treat all heirs equally. For example, someone may have children from two marriages, but one of the children is special needs. The parent might want to provide more financial resources to that child to help them have access to the services and medical care they need, which might cost more than the living expenses of their other children. Another example would be a child who has severe addiction problems. The parent may not want to leave them money for fear it will be used to feed the addiction. Every estate is unique, and there are many reasons why someone wouldn’t want their estate divided exactly evenly. But that’s also why it’s essential to work with experienced estate planning attorneys who can ensure your wishes are clearly established, and the estate plans are legally difficult to challenge.
  • Consider any stepchildren. If you have stepchildren you want to provide assets for, that must be part of the estate planning. Since they’re not blood relatives, having them listed in a will or trust is crucial to ensure they’ll receive what you want them to (more on that below). The reverse is also true. If you’re concerned that the parent of the stepchildren who’s currently your spouse may give them specific things if the spouse inherits the estate, and you’d rather, that didn’t happen, that must be spelled out in estate plans too.
  • As difficult as it is, consider what happens if the current spouse outlives you and remarries. How would you want your assets handled in that case?
  • Healthcare decisions. This is an essential item that people don’t always associate with estate planning. But everyone should have an advance directive that names someone who can make medical decisions on your behalf if you’re incapacitated. Keeping that document up to date and reflective of current family members is essential. If someone has an advance directive that names a former spouse, and the former and current spouse disagree on what medical decisions should be made on behalf of the incapacitated person, it could lead to time in court and considerable animosity.

What Happens if Someone Dies Intestate with a Blended Family?

Technically, the same thing happens when someone dies intestate with a blended family as when someone dies with a less complex family tree. The estate usually will have to go through probate, and in general, the probate court will divide the estate in a specific order.

  • Spouse and children. If the estate owner was married and/or a parent at the time of death, the estate is divided equally among the spouse and children (if there are any; if there are no children, the estate goes to the spouse).
  • Parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews. If there is no spouse or direct descendant, the estate would go to any surviving parents or siblings. If any of the siblings died before the estate owner, that sibling’s share would be distributed to the sibling’s children.
  • Grandparents, uncles, and aunts. If no one in the above categories is alive, the estate will be divided among any existing grandparents, uncles, and aunts. However, if an uncle or aunt is already deceased, their share does not go to their children.
  • Blood relatives. If none of the above exist or can be found, the courts will go to the family tree to look for less direct relatives.

In a blended family, there may be reasons why the estate owner wants only specific family members to receive part of the estate. But if they die intestate, their wishes may go unfulfilled. Or the blended family members may try to protest in court, which can be costly and time-consuming.

What Should I Do if I Need to do Estate Planning for a Blended Family?

Call the Rundlett Law Firm at 601-282-8426 for a free, in-depth, no-obligation case evaluation. We can walk you through the specifics of your estate and how having a blended family will affect it. Our team of experienced, knowledgeable estate planning attorneys can help you understand this complex area of law and identify the areas that may need special attention.