Ruth-Ann E. Toups
Blended Family Planning
Blended families (those with children from outside the current marriage) present unique estate planning challenges. Often, each spouse brings their own pool of assets to the marriage. Many couples wish to provide both for their spouse and their children in their estate plan. This can be achieved through careful planning. However, without proper planning the results can be disastrous.
Without any estate planning documents in place the spouses risk not providing for the surviving spouse and a more difficult probate proceeding. However, not every will can achieve your desired outcome. Couples often execute “sweetheart wills” that leave their estate to the other spouse in the event of one spouse’s death. The surviving spouse may change their will after the death of the first spouse. That can become problematic. Consider this scenario: Bill and Sally execute sweetheart wills, Sally dies, Bill remarries and executes a new sweetheart will with his new wife, Jane, then Bill dies. Jane now inherits the entire estate, including what Sally left Bill. Now consider that same scenario with Bill, Sally, and Jane each having separate children. Issues will arise.
What can you do to prevent this situation? Bill and Sally could utilize a trust to prevent this outcome. By using a trust, Bill or Sally could limit the surviving spouse’s ability to give away all of the deceased spouse’s assets, while still allowing the surviving spouse access in the event of a health or other crisis. This plan not only protects the deceased spouse and the deceased spouse’s children, but it also protects the surviving spouse from creditors and predators.
There are many other options and ways to achieve your blended family’s goals through estate planning. The most important step is simply to start.