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Estate planning for blended families

| Jan 21, 2021 | Estate Planning

Those of us who are a certain age remember the Brady Bunch television show. Mike and Carol got married and merged his three boys with her three girls into one big happy blended family. While the show highlighted the zany antics of everyone living together, what would have happened if Mike died, leaving his architecture firm and estate to Carol, who then passed those assets to her girls after having a fallout with the boys?

Obviously, this dark plot twist is out of character for a light comedy, but countless dramas feature evil stepmothers keeping the money or wills that favor some survivors over others. Unfortunately, it can also happen in real life if someone does not create a will that addresses their blended family.

Unique challenges for updating your will

Blended families face many hurdles over the years. Some are based on the fact that the family is blended, while others may have nothing to do with it. Regardless, here are some tips for protecting the family unit and your assets:

  1. A simple will is likely a mistake: Leaving everything to a subsequent spouse can mean things like a family business, vacation home or other family heirlooms do not stay with family members with emotional and biological ties to them.
  2. Create a trust: A trust can do many things, including look after a spouse until they die, but it ensures that assets go to either all the children or your children.
  3. Pick the right trustee: Those in charge of the trust may need to act as neutral in any family disputes, but they also have to be comfortable making decisions that cause tension.
  4. Remarriage: Things can take a dark turn if the surviving spouse remarries and perhaps leaves everything to that spouse and their family.
  5. Healthcare decisions: Disagreements over healthcare are common, so a remarried parent should plan for all foreseeable illnesses and situations. Hurt feelings and long-held grudges can lead to power struggles where some limit others’ access to a spouse or parent.
  6. Pass some assets to the kids: Adult children may have grandchildren in college or other financial burdens that can be made lighter with some cash from the estate. Other assets, like ownership of a family business, can be transferred if they intend to run it.

Planning makes it easier

Whether blended or biological, families grieving the loss of a parent react in different ways. They will also likely have different ideas on “the right thing to do,” so making many of the critical decisions ahead of time may give them the peace of mind of knowing that your wishes were honored.