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By Michael Vosilla
Senior Associate

Every family needs sound estate planning to prepare for their future and preserve a legacy for the next generation. But for families with children from more than one relationship – known commonly as blended families – the need is even more acute. It is imperative that you retain skilled legal counsel to help you create a customized plan to meet your exact objectives. That’s where the estate planning attorneys of LaFountain & Wollman P.C. come in.

Why Are Blended Families Different?

A blended family consists of at least one spouse who has children that are not biologically related to the other spouse. Marriages end and spouses remarry, bringing their children into the new family and often having additional children.

There are several scenarios that should concern members of blended families. One situation arises when a spouse executes a last will and testament during their previous marriage. When the spouse divorces, he or she may fail to update the will or execute a new one. In other situations, a husband or wife with children from a previous relationship leaves everything to their new spouse and hopes that the spouse will care for the children. In still other circumstances, a last will and testament is never executed and an estate plan is never created.

Estate planning in blended families is fraught with emotional complexity and legal uncertainties. These issues require the clear thinking and guidance of an estate planning professional.

The Worst Option: Passing Away With No Plan

Dying intestate, meaning without an estate plan, is a problem in any family because inheritance is then defined by state intestacy laws. This means people you never intended to inherit your assets may very well do so, while those you wanted to inherit might not. These problems are potentially more pronounced in blended families.

For example, assume you leave behind a spouse with whom you had children, and your spouse also has children from a previous relationship. In this scenario, your spouse will inherit the first $100,000, plus 1/2 of the balance, and your biological children will inherit 1/2 of your intestate property.  This could create tension with your biological children, spouse, and step-children.

On top of this, your property may be locked up in probate for a significant amount of time. Probate takes time and costs money, potentially depleting assets that could have been passed on with the right estate plan. In fact, there are ways to avoid probate altogether that you could have taken advantage of, such as creating a trust.

Beneficiary Designations Also Matter

Certain assets do not pass through probate and are not affected either way by a last will and testament or estate plan. Examples include:

  • Assets held by a living trust
  • Life insurance proceeds with a named beneficiary
  • Retirement account funds with a named beneficiary
  • Securities held in a transfer-on-death account
  • Real estate with a transfer on death deed
  • Vehicles with a transfer on death registration
  • Payable-on-death (POD) bank accounts
  • Property owned with another person in either a joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety

Although probate won’t be an issue, some updates are required. You should remove an ex-spouse who is named as a beneficiary. Add your new spouse and any children you have with that person. You might also want to add children that your new spouse has from a previous relationship.

We’re Here To Help Plan For Your Future

Any major life event such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of a new child should prompt you to review your estate plan. You should meet with an attorney to revise your will, trust, and other components of your plan to ensure that everyone is taken care of as you intended. LaFountain & Wollman P.C. is ready to assist. Call us today to learn more.

About the Author
Attorney Michael Vosilla is LaFountain & Wollman, P.C.’s Senior Associate, who currently resides in Brighton. As an immigration lawyer, Attorney Vosilla has secured green cards and citizenship for countless clients, and he is an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).