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Yours, Mine, and Ours: Estate Planning for Blended Families

The modern-day Brady family is more prevalent than ever. According to the United States Census Bureau, 40% of U.S. families are blended. With more than half of first marriages ending in divorce, 75% of divorced people will marry again. About 65% of second marriages include children from the first marriage. While a blended family is a beautiful thing, it really drives home the importance of having an established and updated estate plan to protect your assets, your new spouse, and your respective children – both together and through previous marriages.

A Simple Will Probably Won’t Cut It

When it comes to estate planning with a blended family, you will probably need more than a simple Will. When you are remarried with children from previous relationships, it’s vital to consider your children’s well-being. A simple Will where you leave everything to your spouse – in hopes that they would leave your remaining assets to your children – is not the safest option. This type of Will would allow your spouse to cut your children out of their Will if they chose to do so because once they solely own everything, they are free execute their own Will and exclude your children.

However, there are options – like setting up a trust – that would ensure that both your spouse and your children are protected (and you can also include your spouse’s children if you chose to treat them as your own). One option would be to set up a living trust that leaves assets to your spouse, with the remaining balance transferring to your children when the spouse passes away. While other options could include leaving assets to your spouse and your children at the time of your death via a testamentary trust.

Choose a Trusted Trustee

Choosing a trusted trustee is paramount when assets need to be divided and distributed. There could be tensions between your spouse and children, so choosing someone fair and neutral is a critical consideration.  Additionally, you could include a Trust Protector in your Trust that could act as sort of an “arbitrator” where there is disagreement between the beneficiaries.

Include a Medical Power of Attorney

The Medical Power of Attorney names an “agent” to ensure responsibility for your medical care decisions and to be responsible for healthcare professionals providing the necessary and appropriate care for you according to your wishes.

While we all want a happy blended family, this may not always be the case. Sometimes the spouse and children may not get along. When deciding who to appoint as the agent of your Medical Power of Attorney, it is important to consider the relationship of your spouse and children. Is their relationship strained or contain strife? If so, you may want to consider appointing an agent that is a neutral party. It is not uncommon for a spouse or children to allow their bitter feelings to cut off your loved ones’ access to your care.

Include a Declaration of Guardian

No – this is not about your children!  This is about you.  Sometimes, when there are family issues, one family member may decide that the person you named is not acceptable to them.  So, they can file a guardianship proceeding with the Probate Court seeking to remove your agent and allowing them to be your agent.  In order to avoid this, while you are perfectly competent and able, you can execute a Declaration of Guardian stating your wishes as to who you want to be the agent of your person (medical) and your estate (financial).  This should be the same agents you named in your Financial and Medical Powers of Attorney.  This document would be filed in the guardianship proceeding and can pull the rug from under the applicant’s attempt to break your Powers of Attorney.

There are many situations to consider for your estate plan for your blended family. If you have questions, or are interested in setting up an estate plan, please contact us or complete the brief form below to send a message to our legal team.

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