What happens with your blended family once you are Gone?

We all remember that day that we fell in love with our partner. Never would we imagine at that moment that possible trouble could lie ahead, especially if children from each side are involved. If you have a blended family and do not plan for what happens to your assets in the event of your incapacity or eventual death, you are almost certainly guaranteeing hurt feelings, conflict, and maybe even a long, drawn out court battle. I am sure this is not what you want to happen so it is important to have a plan in place.

So let’s start with clarity around what a blended family is and whether you have one. If you have stepchildren, or children from a prior marriage, or other people you consider “kin” who are not considered legal relatives in the eyes of the law, you’ve got a blended family.

Bottom line: if you have a blended family, you need an estate plan, and not just a Will that you created for yourself online, or a Trust that isn’t intentionally designed to keep your family out of court and out of conflict. Unless you are okay with setting your loved ones up for unnecessary heartache, confusion, and pain when something happens to you.  

Deciding who gets what after one’s passing is tough. According to a survey by Caring.com, only 42% of American adults have essential estate planning documents, such as a will or a living trust. People avoid planning for the inevitable for many reasons. But for blended families, a major reason is that estate planning requires more than a simple will.

What Will the Law Do? 

“Blended Families” are swiftly becoming the norm. Currently 52% of married couples (or unmarried couples who live together) have a step kin relationship of some kind, and 4 in 10 new marriages involve remarriage. So, clearly, this is no longer “non-traditional” but quite traditional, though our laws about what happens if you become incapacitated or die are still very much based on the traditional family.

Every state has different provisions for what happens when you become incapacitated or die, and the laws of the state may or may not match your wishes. For example, in Colorado, 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 your living children or parents would receive the rest and the amount your spouse receives is varying based on the number and ages of your children.

On the other hand, in California, all community property assets would go to your surviving spouse, and separate property assets would be distributed partially to a surviving spouse and partially to children, if living, in amounts depending on the number of surviving children.

In Florida the law guarantees your surviving spouse an elective share of your estate, which amounts to 30 percent of certain assets. This means that even if you don’t leave anything to your spouse, he or she can take legal action to receive their share. Also to be considered is Florida’s homestead law, which automatically gives your surviving spouse a “life estate” in your home if he or she is not a co-owner. The property passes to your children only upon the spouse’s death.

These are examples to show you that where you die, and what’s true when you die, may not result in the outcome you want for your loved ones, especially if you have a blended family situation.

So, here’s what you do to make sure that things do go the way you want: call us and schedule an Estate Planning Session. We will spend an hour getting to know you, your family dynamics, and your assets, and come up with a plan for you and how it would impact your family and your assets in the event of your incapacity or death, so you can ensure that things go the way you want for the people you love.

Even within “traditional” families, aka married parents with families, I want to emphasize that having a full plan is the best way to provide for your loved ones. However, with “blended” families, carefully considered estate plans are, as you can see, even more vital to avoid massive misunderstanding and conflict, and having your assets tied up in court instead of going to the people you want to receive them. 

Disputes Between Spouse and Children from Previous Marriage

One of the most common problems that arises in a blended family is that the deceased’s children from a prior marriage and the surviving spouse end up in conflict. This one is sadly common. Unless a comprehensive plan has been created, it could be very easy for your surviving spouse to cut your kids out completely. This is just another example of the importance of proper estate planning to preserve your legacy and wealth for your future generations.

When you’re considering all of these factors for the people you love, it’s important to have a lawyer who can help you look at the reality of what will happen if you become incapacitated or when you die. With the complexities of modern families, it’s better to know than to leave it to the law or a court to provide. That way, not only do the people you love get the assets that you want them to receive, but you may also be saving them from years of legal conflict. Just give us a call and we’ll help you review your options.

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