Blended Families Bring Estate Planning Challenges

By October 5, 2015Advice, Estate, Law Review

by Jackie Bedard

Divorce and remarriage are common. Forty-two percent of American adults have a step-relationship of some sort, according to a recent article in The Huffington Post. Blended families bring an extra challenge to estate planning.

The ugliest family disputes that occur after someone passes away are not about money but possessions with sentimental value. Even the smallest item can have a significant emotional value, and squabbles over these belongings can cause rifts that are difficult to heal.

Clearly stating in a will which child or stepchild gets what, whether they are “yours, mine, or ours,” can eliminate disputes after you pass away. Identify who you want to inherit specific heirlooms, such as jewelry, furniture, photographs or other personal effects. Choose a specific person to handle social media accounts after they’re gone.

Make sure everyone understands those wishes upfront, and be sure to get those wishes in writing in a will. This document should be updated regularly to take major life changes into account, including anytime a child is born or adopted.

Health Care Directives
Who gets to make end-of-life decisions? If you don’t put your wishes in writing, your loved ones can be left with legal disputes and family fights at one of the most difficult times in their lives.

If you enter into a new marriage, make sure to talk about this issue. Children from a previous marriage may have very different ideas from your stepchildren about what should be done in the event of your incapacitation. Without specifying those wishes in a living will or advanced health care directive, there can be costly legal battles and anguish for your loved ones.

If you have children by a previous marriage, a trust can be a good way to protect their inheritance. It can also be used to help ensure any previous spouses or stepchildren who were part of that marriage are not inadvertently disinherited by the new relationship.Without getting those wishes in writing, you could unintentionally leave your loved ones unprotected and without financial support.

Prenuptial Agreements
One other way you can ensure your wishes are made known within a blended family is by entering into a prenuptial agreement with the new spouse. While a prenup may not be necessary for a couple entering into a first marriage, for a second marriage or any more subsequent to that, there are all sorts of complex issues that may make such an agreement not only useful but necessary.

Before entering into a new marriage, discuss estate issues with the new intended spouse. A prenup ensures both parties enter into the relationship with a clear understanding. This can protect not only you but your loved ones as well.

Marriage should be a time for families to come together and rejoice. Blended families can be strong and supportive environments for everyone. However, a large part of that comes from everyone feeling they are taken care of when a loved one passes away.


Bedard, an elder law attorney with Carolina Family Estate Planning, can be reached at 919-443-3035.