Blended Families: A Trust Is A Must

Today, 16 percent of children in the United States live in blended families, according to U.S. Census data. This can include those living in households that have a stepparent, stepsibling, or half-sibling.

Posted on June 3, 2024

In many cases, stepchildren receive the same treatment as full biological children in the case of inheritance. This is particularly true where stepchildren are part of a blended family from an early age. However, biological siblings may have different feelings about a stepchild inheriting what they perceive as theirs as a natural heir. Likewise, a surviving spouse may have the same feelings about their own children's inheritance.

Inheritance Planning

Estate planning for blended families is key to a smooth inheritance process. Probate rules and intestate succession law may not treat inheritance the same for stepchildren and biological children. Open communication about your estate plan is also helpful in managing the expectations of your heirs.

Trying to be equitable among your heirs can be tricky. You may hope your spouse and children will work things out after you have passed away. However, you want to avoid this common estate planning mistake. It can easily create unnecessary heartache for the loved ones you leave behind.

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      Carve out some quiet time and identify your most important estate planning goals. This includes deciding how you would like to divide all your hard-earned assets between your various loved ones.

      The goal is to reduce tensions among family members. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you identify and sort through some potential options.

      Creating a Trust

      Share your ideas with your spouse and agree on a basic approach, including scenarios for who might pass away first. Leaving property outright to a surviving spouse may not be the best approach. As noted above, this does not ensure that the children (including any children from previous relationships) will ultimately benefit. Many blended families use a trust to provide for a spouse while leaving their property to their children.

      With a trust, for instance, there are many different scenarios that can take place:

      • You can leave assets to your spouse while they are alive, with the balance later transferring to your children.
      • You can make an initial distribution upon your death and then a final distribution when the second spouse passes.
      • You can avoid accidental disinheritance and many other options.

      Trusts, when funded properly, avoid probate and remain private. This means that funded trusts also avoid the public contest period that accompanies probate. No open contest period diminishes the chances of prolonged court battles. Partner with an experienced estate planning attorney to execute the legal documents that work best for your specific situation.

      Stay updated on how to protect everything you’ve worked for so hard during your life.

        Beware of Will Contests

        Parents in blended families should be aware of the possibility of a will contest. Let’s be blunt – money changes people, and the perception of not being treated fairly in an inheritance situation really changes people. Using a traditional Last Will and Testament in a blended family situation begs for contest.

        While contesting a will is permissible, there is no guarantee it will be successful; however, it is a definite waste of time, emotional strength, and money. To ensure your loved ones will follow your legacy wishes, consult a qualified estate planning attorney. Professionals in this area will understand the intricacies and nuances of estate planning for blended families. They also may be able to help you problem solve and navigate difficult conversations between parents and children.

        Contact an estate planning attorney near you for guidance on the right estate planning documents for your family. If your family experiences any major life changes, such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a child or a move to a new state, always review and update your estate plan.

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