Estate Planning for Blended Families, Part I
There could very well be nothing more satisfying when it comes to estate planning than getting it right when it comes to blended families. There are a number of complicated issues to work out if you want to take care of your second (or third) spouse and the children, as well as any children you may have from your previous relationship.
One thing is for sure; letting them all battle it out after you're gone can not be a serious option. That is an invitation to disaster, to say the least. If you have ever been through a divorce, you know that "happily ever after" leaves your vocabulary and is unlikely to return. For estate planning purposes, "good enough ever after" is a great goal.
A solid estate plan will take every aspect of your unique family dynamic into account and should alleviate everyone's concerns, including yours. If it's put together the right way, it will free you to focus on your new family and your current attempt at happiness.
As is the case with most issues having to do with family, the key to everything is good communication. Have an honest discussion with your new spouse and let them know all about your current finances and what your goals are when it comes to distributing your assets when you're gone. If your children are adults, bring them into the discussion as well, because everyone has a stake in these decisions.
No one likes to talk about this kind of thing. It is not everyone's dream to discuss their demise with their loved ones, but it has to be done. You have to be able to think in the long run, so that everyone is prepared when they have to be. Think about it this way; if they love you enough now to consider it difficult to talk about such issues now, imagine how broken up they'll be after you die. They'll be grief-stricken and they're unlikely to be able to think clearly about any of the details. If they know what to expect when it comes to your estate, that's one less worry off their plate. They will get what you intend to leave them, and there will be fewer opportunities for conflict at a time when conflict is the least desirable option available to everyone.
If it can be done, it would be a great idea to speak to an estate planning attorney before you say "I do" the second time, so all options can be placed on the table. If you fail to do things the right way, it's possible the state will distribute everything, and that could be the worst outcome possible.
The biggest concern for most people when it comes to second marriages comes with making sure each spouse's beneficiaries, especially their children from the previous marriage, gets what they want them to have. You want to protect the inheritance of your children from previous relationships to the extent possible, even if their parent is the first one to die.
While traditional estate planning distributes an estate to the spouse and then the children, in the case of a blended family, it's actually very easy, when the first spouse dies, for the surviving spouse to amend the documents to disinherit anyone they choose, including their dead spouse's children from his previous marriage.
In Part II, we'll discuss ways you can do that .