One of the most famous of blended families was the Brady Bunch. When Mike married Carol, they each brought children of their own into this new relationship. Mike had three boys; Greg, Peter, and Bobby and Carol had three girls; Marsha, Jan, and Cindy. The eight of them came together to make a large, new family- a blended family.
Blended families have also been referred to as a step-family. It is a family where one or both spouses have children from a previous relationship. Estate Planning for a blended family can be tricky: you need to balance the interests of the children from the previous relationship with the interests of the new spouse and family. Here are a few examples of outcomes that can happen in a blended family situation, often unintendedly.
Leave It All To Spouse- This often occurs through what is also referred to as an “I Love You Will.” In this type of will one spouse leaves everything to the other spouse. There are instances when this works just fine, but it may cause problems in a blended family.
In our example of the Brady Bunch, if Carol passes away and leaves everything to Mike in her Will, Mike can spend the inheritance any way he wants. This works out great for Mike and the boys. Mike can then leave this money to anyone he chooses in his own Estate Plan. In all likelihood Mike would leave everything to his children; Greg, Peter, and Bobby. Carol may have thought that Mike would take care of Marsha, Jan, and Cindy and provide for them in his Estate Plan. Even if Mike did promise Carol that he would leave money for all the children, he is under no legal obligation to do so.
Possible Alternatives— a trust based Estate Plan is a common solution for blended families. A special trust called a Marital Trust is established upon the death of the first spouse. This trust can ultimately protect the inheritance of the deceased spouse’s children. There are also rules and restrictions on the Marital Trust on how the surviving spouse can access and spend the money.
Leave It All To Children- There can be several unintended results when leaving all of your assets to your children, first of which may be causing your surviving spouse to have insufficient resources to continue to comfortably live. In our Brady Bunch example if Mike passed first and left everything to the boys—Carol, a stay-at-home mom— may struggle to support the family.
Second, what if your children are minors when you die? This would mean another adult would have to manage their inheritance until they reach the legal age of majority (typically 18). Usually a court must appoint this person and will most often chose the surviving biological parent. Meaning your ex-spouse or ex-partner may end up controlling the assets you left to your children.
Possible Alternatives- setting up a revocable living trust based Estate Plan can prevent an ex-spouse from gaining control over your children’s inheritance. Creating a trust allows you to decide ahead of time who will be the trustee of the trust after your death. This “trustee” is the person who will manage the assets on behalf of the beneficiaries, in this example the children. Another way to ensure that your new spouse and children have sufficient resources available after your passing is to plan with life insurance.
Planning Is Key With Blended Families- Blended families have numerous financial and legal strategies available to help them achieve their Estate Planning goals. Once you know the unique obstacles blended families face in the planning process the common mistakes can be navigated. Experienced legal council can walk you through these types of obstacles and help you create an estate plan that will both protect and provide for your new spouse as well as your children.
About Becky Cholewka
Becky is the founding attorney of Cholewka Law, established in 2010 and located in historic downtown Gilbert. Becky is passionate about proactively educating and supporting the community of Gilbert where she both lives and works. Cholewka Law represents clients in all areas of estate planning, including wills, trusts, powers of attorney, probate, trust administration, asset protection, and bankruptcy. To schedule a confidential consultation contact her office at 480-497-3770.