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Estate planning that involves blended families

Wills, trusts and estate plans come in all different shapes and sizes. Some will be straightforward because there is a single beneficiary, but these days estate plans will often need to consider children, stepchildren and a second (or third) wife. It can even get more tangled if there are multitudes of grandchildren as well.

We like to think that blended families will be as seamless as the family on the Brady Bunch, but it is likely that the dynamics will be more complicated than that. Perhaps the biological children do not get along or do not like a new stepmother, or perhaps the stepmother is considerably younger and likely will live nearly as long as your biological children.

Tips for making it easier

Thoughtful estate planning can recognize issues unique to blended families as well as potential problems down the line:

  • Do not leave the last spouse everything without a plan: Their own will can divert your assets to their children, thereby cutting off your biological children.
  • Create a trust for the final spouse: This enables them to live comfortably while ensuring that assets will still go to whom you wish after their passing.
  • Pick a good trustee: A spouse or child may not be the best choice for handling probate, managing an estate or trust or handling legal and less formal disputes among family members.
  • Have a contingency if a spouse remarries: A trust or will can address this.
  • Pass some assets immediately to children: It may be helpful or even necessary to pass certain assets to children. If nothing else, it also helps avoid putting assets through probate again.
  • Pick who handles healthcare decisions: As with a trustee or someone who handles the power of attorney, this should be handled by the right person who ideally has instructions on how to address foreseeable issues.

Legal guidance is often necessary

Estate law attorneys can help clients create a smart and effective estate plan and then occasionally update it as details change. They can also work with families, helping them with probate, executing the details of a decedent’s final wishes, and troubleshooting any issues that arise.

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