Estate Planning Questions For Blended Families

November 13, 2014
Updated on December 18, 2020

Divorced, remarried, or widowed? Your estate plan needs extra attention.

Chances are good that you or someone you know is part of a blended family. Once uncommon, over 40 percent of adults now have some kind of steprelationship, according to Pew Research, and statistics from the United States Census Bureau indicate that 1,300 new stepfamilies form every day.

For the millions of divorced, widowed, and remarried Americans, estate planning is extra tricky. In a blended family situation, there are more opportunities to get it wrong, and the stakes—ensuring your assets are distributed to a current spouse and not an ex, or that your children and stepchildren are treated according to your wishes—are often higher.

Additionally, spouses—current, former, or both—may not see eye-to-eye on key decisions. Who takes care of the children if one parent passes away—the surviving spouse or the natural parent? Which assets belong to which spouse?

Working through these details can not only avoid future estate planning hassles but also help maintain healthy relationships among all parties involved.

To get started, consider these questions:

  • What do you want to happen when you pass away?
  • Whom do you want to make decisions for you, if you cannot make them for yourself?
  • Who will provide for your children?
  • Who will take over as guardian for any minors when you pass away—the surviving spouse or the natural parent? Do the children get a say in this decision?
  • What are you going to do for your surviving spouse?
    • How do you want to provide for your surviving spouse?
    • Do you want to give your surviving spouse broad decision-making authority, or would you rather limit it?
  • Do you and your present or former spouse have shared objectives?
    • Will you need two separate attorneys to handle your plans?
    • How open are you willing to be in the planning conversation with a past or present spouse and an attorney?
  • Do you live in a separate property or community property state? (In a community property state, both spouses are typically considered equal owners of all marital property. In a separate property state, if your name appears on an asset—say a home mortgage—you are considered the owner, though your spouse has the right to claim a fair and equitable portion of those assets.)

When you think about these matters, consider any wealth or age disparities between you and any future or former spouses. If remarrying, do you need a prenuptial agreement? If there is a big age difference, who is more likely to pass away first?

Once you have decided what you would like to have happen, it is important to work with an estate planning attorney experienced in counseling blended families to formalize and structure your plans. A comprehensive and sound estate plan—particularly one that addresses the intricacies of planning for a blended family—can take time to form, but it will have a significant impact in the event that you become incapacitated or pass away. Having a plan in place not only gives you peace of mind about what will happen to your assets when you are gone but also allows you to preserve the peace with loved ones now.

Inheritance, Incapacity, Estate Planning
Copied to clipboard!