Ever since Mike and Carol Brady became a “bunch”, blended families have become more than common among modern families. Unblended families are unique and dynamic in their own right. However, when families are combined, the atmosphere often reaches a whole new level.
As an estate planning attorney, one of my favorite things is getting to know and understand how each family operates. Familiarizing myself with the family’s background and how they interact and function helps me create an estate plan tailored not only to satisfy my clients’ goals, but hopefully reduce the likelihood of family conflict after my clients pass away. Having a detailed plan can help minimize sibling jealousy or outbursts (a la Jan Brady’s “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia”), and give peace of mind to the person establishing a plan for any family – functional, dysfunctional, or most likely somewhere in between depending upon the day.
If you are part of a blended family, here are some questions to consider:
- Where do I want my “stuff” to go when I die? In Iowa, if you are married and have children from a prior relationship or prior marriage, one-half of your property will pass to your children, and the other half will pass to your surviving spouse unless you establish a Will or Trust which says otherwise. Many people with blended families still want everything to pass to their spouse, or they may want to preserve inherited assets such as a family farm, for example, for blood-line relatives only.
- Should I include my stepchildren or treat them the same as my own biological or adopted children?
- What if my spouse remarries after I die? Do I trust he/she will not spend our assets on a new spouse? How can I ensure my children will receive what I want them to have if my spouse survives me?
- Who will be the guardian and conservator of my minor children? Do I really trust my ex-spouse to manage my children’s inheritance?
Once you’ve answered questions such as these, next consider your estate planning goals. For example:
- How important is it to me that my family doesn’t fight after I die?
- Is it important to me that my spouse and/or children are treated equally?
- Does fair have to me equal? What does “fair” mean to me and why?
- Do I want to try and protect my children’s inheritance in the event they get a divorce or have creditors coming after them?
- Does is matter to me when my loved ones receive their inheritance? Do I want to make their inheritance conditioned upon one or more factors?
Finally, consider each family member’s unique personality and traits. Would it be helpful to include a provision that if a beneficiary contests your Will or Trust, he or she may end up receiving zero (e.g. a no-contest provision)? Is it wise to share your estate plan with your loved ones now?
Whether a blended family or not, many people become overwhelmed by the thought of estate planning. This is why I encourage clients to focus on their current situation. Create a plan as best you can based on what you currently know and how life is at this very moment. As the years pass, you, your loved ones, your financial situation, and many other things will likely change. You can then revisit and tweak your plan to fit the change in circumstances.
Estate planning for any family is important. Every member of the family unit lives their life and experiences joys and pitfalls (emotionally, physically, financially), and as such the family – whether technically blended or not – is always changing and evolving.
Just as every Brady Bunch episode ended with Mr. Brady offering a warm-hearted nugget of wisdom, I too leave you with this: “Failing to plan is planning to fail. Just do it.” Not quite as poignant as Mr. Brady, but you get the point.
The information contained above is for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel. You should not act or rely upon this information.