Estate planning with one family is hard enough. For families with a mix of biological children and stepchildren, first spouses and second spouses, making out an equitable will can seem impossible. No one wants to leave their heirs with a mess to sort out or fight over. Here's a look at the top six things to remember when you're estate planning for a blended family.
A recent article in TheStreet.com, titled "6 Things to Consider When Estate planning for Your Second Family," suggests that you first consider how long your family has been together. If you and your second spouse married when your children were still young, or if you had your own children together, your family is hopefully just one family. If you look at all of your family's kids as "our" kids, then make provisions in your will that show that harmony, according to the original article. This is a truly blended family.
Estate planning should be considered as if each child was yours biologically, and your second spouse is actually your first spouse. On the other hand, if the children are adults or are nearing adulthood, then you may want to take a different approach. For example, you might choose to create separate provisions for your biological children and for your stepchildren. As with all estate planning, it is best to anticipate and avoid as many hurt feelings as you can by working through this with your estate planning attorney.
A very common way to make provisions for your stepchildren is to leave a bequest to your spouse so he or she can distribute the inheritance, instead of giving the bequest to the children yourself.
In addition, consider providing for your second spouse and give something to your children immediately. Tip: do not structure your will so your kids have to wait for their step-parent to die before they get any inheritance.
Another very critical reminder is to communicate with everyone—either separately or as a group. The original article advises that you talk to everyone involved and let them know what you are planning and how you want things done. Managing your family's expectations and open communication is key.
Read some of the other six tips in the original article and then consult with your estate planning attorney to properly set up your own blended family estate plan.
Reference: The Street (August 7, 2014) "6 Things to Consider When Estate planning for Your Second Family"