Yours, mine and ours . . . in today’s modern family it’s oh so common. A blended family is the product of a marriage in which one or more of the spouses has children from a prior relationship. Often, the married couple with have kids together, in which case the children from the prior relationship are half-siblings with the children from the current marriage.
If you have or are part of a blended family, it’s important to understand how estate planning could be exactly what you need to keep your family out of conflict and in love – during life, in the event of a parent’s incapacity, and when one or more of the parents dies.
Let’s being with an understanding of where potential conflicts could arise when you are part of a blended family.
Most people assume that if they die without a will, everything they own will go to their surviving spouse. Not so fast! In Virginia, if a person dies and has one or more children from another relationship, then the surviving spouse only inherits one-third (33.3%) of the estate. All of the children (including any children from the relationship with the surviving spouse) inherit the remaining two-thirds (66.7%) of the estate. Dying without a will or documented estate plan is one of the surest ways to create chaos and conflict among your family – and just imagine if your husband or wife will have to divide up your belongings with your surviving children!
Some people I meet with think that the solution is to write a will that leaves everything to the surviving spouse. And that is a perfectly legal option. But by doing so you could leave your older children without any inheritance. By leaving everything outright to your surviving spouse, that spouse then becomes free to pass their inheritance on to whomever he or she chooses. That could leave your children feeling unloved, forgotten, or resentful.
Another popular option is to create a trust that lets your surviving spouse have access to your estate and then upon the spouse’s death leave everything to your children. This too could create unintended consequences. Your children may feel resentful toward a stepparent. They might perceive the stepparent as using up all of their inheritance, and the children may feel compelled to keep tabs on how the surviving spouse is spending money and using assets that they feel rightfully belong to them.
Without thoughtfully planning through family dynamics, your estate could turn into a source of major conflict after your death. One of the best ways to avoid conflict is to create a clear plan for estate distribution and communicate that plan to your children, spouse, and loved ones during your life so that everyone knows your wishes and understands what should be done upon your death. We help facilitate these sorts of discussions at Forrest Law Center for all families, especially blended families.
If you are the child of a someone who has remarried or entered into a long-term relationship, you may want to bring the issue of inheritance up with your parent. While death is never an easy subject to bring, and you may feel uncomfortable talking about a parent’s future death, these conversations can often bring out some of the most important and lasting lessons from an older loved one.
If you are the parent who has remarried or entered into a long-term relationship, it is vital that you think about how you want to pass on not just your estate but your most cherished values to your loved ones. Your purposeful planning and clear communication will be more valuable to them than you might realize.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and not intended as legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship. Every situation is unique and consultation with an attorney is required before any specific advice can be given.