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Horizon Elder Law & Estate Planning Blog

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Estate Planning Complications That Arise When Families Merge

Estate planning can be challenging for some families who have unique situations that require special estate planning tools or comprehensive estate planning to address certain issues. A blended or merged family can sometimes create estate planning difficulties. Parents with minor children from previous marriages and couples who marry later in life with adult children from prior relationships may struggle with estate planning decisions that protect and provide for all family members. A California estate planning attorney can help couples develop an estate plan that addresses the financial, legal, and emotional issues that may arise when families merge.

How Are Estate Plans Different for Merged or Blended Families?

Blending or merging families can be a balancing act for parents as well as very rewarding. The family dynamic is changing each year. An increasing number of children have stepfamilies, including minors and adult children. When parents discuss estate planning, there can be a tendency to think in terms of “yours, mine, and ours.”

In some cases, it may be necessary to protect children from a previous relationship, but there is also a desire to protect the new family unit as well. It can be helpful to work out issues related to estate planning before the marriage, but that does not always occur. Many couples think about estate planning only after they are married. After the wedding, the competing interests of children, stepchildren, and spouses may increase instead of diminishing. At that time, it may be helpful to seek advice from an experienced estate planning attorney near you.

An attorney can help couples examine the needs of each family member, discuss their desires for estate planning, and develop a plan that addresses those needs and goals.

5 Estate Planning Tips for Blended and Merged Families

Some tips that can help couples as they develop an estate plan include:

1. Discuss what role each spouse will play in the other spouse’s estate. What role will adult children play in an estate plan?

Many people who marry later in life may choose to keep their estates separate and allow their adult children to handle their estate after their death. However, couples with minor children may need a more complex estate plan, especially if their child’s other parent is not involved or will not be available to assume custody of the children.

Parents may need to name guardians and trustees for their minor children. Depending on the situation, it may or may not be the stepparent. Of course, many stepparents choose to treat their biological children and stepchildren equally in their estate plan. The decision depends on numerous factors that are unique for each person. The key is to discuss all issues and engage in open, honest communication.

2. Consider trust agreements for a child’s inheritance.

Even if you and your spouse agree to treat “yours, mine, and ours” equally, a spouse could disinherit stepchildren after the death of their spouse. Parents can ensure their children’s inheritances are protected by creating trust agreements for their children as part of their estate plan.

3. List specific items in your will to pass directly to your children.

If you worry that family heirlooms or treasures may pass to someone who is not in the direct bloodline of your family, identify those items in your will and leave them to your children. If your children are minors, you can include those items in a trust for your children.

4. Review all retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and other assets with beneficiary designations.

Some assets pass directly to beneficiaries. Depending on a person’s preference, newly married individuals with blended families may need to add beneficiaries to these accounts. They may need to work with an estate planning lawyer to ensure that the correct beneficiary inherits the accounts, or the accounts are protected for the beneficiary if the person has special needs or is a minor at the time of the parent’s death.

5. Consider whether a spouse or other family member should serve as power of attorney and health care advocate

In addition to creating a will and trust agreements, it is also necessary to consider whether a spouse or someone else should act on behalf of the other spouse if that spouse is incapacitated. For couples who have adult children, they may wish to appoint their adult children as their agents to handle financial matters and make health care decisions if they are unable to do so. Again, it is a personal decision.

Contact a California Estate Planning Attorney for Help

Developing an estate plan for your merged or blended family can seem overwhelming, but it does not need to be difficult. Yes, there may be several special considerations based on your unique circumstances and family dynamic. It may be difficult to begin an estate planning discussion with a spouse, but it is necessary. Schedule a consult with a California estate planning attorney. Our California estate planning attorneys can assist families in developing an estate plan that ensures all family members are protected in case the unthinkable happens.

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