Milestone events in people’s lives such as divorce, remarriage and a new family can complicate even the best-laid estate plans. Of course, many people avoid estate planning altogether, as more than two-thirds of Americans do not have crucial estate planning documents in place.
For those with blended families, estate planning becomes much more complicated with beneficiary designations that may cross state lines or include people who are not blood related. Competing interests between children, stepchildren and possibly the new spouse can create unnecessary drama that may influence future actions.
What is the role of the new family?
When one ex-spouse starts a new family after divorce, this does not mean that their role and responsibilities relative to the first family will end. In fact, it is the new responsibilities with the current family that will tend to complicate ties to the first family, especially if the individual wishes to provide for everyone.
It is essential to update important documents with each life change so that some children will not accidentally be disinherited, or assets claimed by the previous spouse. Challenges to property division can also crop up during probate if documents are not kept current.
Is it possible to avoid conflict?
Two of the most important ways of avoiding conflicts in blended families include staying up to date with estate planning documents and reviewing the estate’s current financial state and future bequests. Keeping family members informed of the estate-planner’s intent as well as any changes will minimize confusion and temper expectations. Including current and former spouses in deciding what will be fair to the children and stepchildren will prevent future misunderstandings.
It can be useful to keep the financial matters of blended families separate by setting up a revocable trust for the benefit of the surviving spouse after the first spouse passes away. As the primary trustee is usually the surviving spouse, choosing a backup trustee may be critical in preventing that spouse from draining the trust, which could result in the disinheritance of the children in the process.
Effective estate planning is crucial for individuals and families who have unique circumstances. Having knowledgeable and experienced legal resources can provide California residents with the guidance and support they need for even the most complex estate planning issues.