Estate planning attorneys know how often blended families with the best intentions find themselves embroiled in disputes when the couple fails to address what will happen after the first spouse dies. According to the article “In blended families, estate planning can have unintended issues” from The News-Enterprise. This is more likely to occur when spouses marry after their children are already adults, don’t live in the parent’s home, and have their own lives and families.
In the case of remarriage, the new spouse is seen as the parent’s spouse rather than the child’s parent. There may be love and respect. However, it’s a different relationship from long-term blended families. The stepparent was actively engaged with the children’s upbringing, and parents considered all of the children as their own.
For the long-term blended family, the planning must be intentional. However, there may be less concern about the surviving spouse changing beneficiaries and depriving the other spouse’s children of their inheritance. The estate planning attorney must still address this as a possibility.
When relationships between spouses and stepchildren are not as close or are rocky, estate planning must proceed as if the relationship between stepparents and stepsiblings will evaporate on the death of the natural parent. If one spouse intends to leave all of their wealth to the surviving spouse, the plan must anticipate trouble, even litigation.
There is no intent to deprive anyone of inheritance in some families. However, failing to plan appropriately—having a will, setting up trusts, etc.—is not done, and the estate plan disinherits children.
It’s necessary for the will, trusts, and any other estate planning documents to define the term “children” and, in some cases, use the specific names of the children. This is especially important when other family members have the same or similar names.
As long as the parents are healthy, the parents can amend estate plans. If one of the parents becomes incapacitated, the parent cannot legally change their wills. If one spouse dies and the survivor remarries and names a new spouse as their beneficiary, it’s possible for all of the children to lose their inheritances.
Most people don’t intend to disinherit their children or their stepchildren. However, this often occurs when the spouses neglect to revise their estate plan when they marry again or if there is no estate plan. An estate planning attorney has seen many versions of this and can create a plan to achieve your wishes and protect your children.
A final note: be realistic about what may occur when you pass. While your spouse may fully intend to maintain relationships with your children, lives and relationships change. With an intentional estate plan, parents can take comfort in knowing their property will be passed to the next generation—or two—as they wish.
Reference: The News-Enterprise (Dec. 7, 2021) “In blended families, estate planning can have unintended issues.”