The divorce rate here in the United States has gone down in recent years, but still hovers above 40%. So, it should be no surprise that many out there drafting or updating estate plans will need to consider second or third spouses, stepchildren and other circumstances unique to a blended family.
We all hope that the second marriage is as harmonious and fun as the "Brady Bunch" or the "Yours, Mine and Ours" movies, but this is not always the case. If that is the tone currently, do not assume that it will remain so over years and changing circumstances.
Tips for a blended family
Individuals or couples will need to be realistic about the circumstances involved in the family unit while also fulfilling any goals they may have during this process and address all foreseeable issues. These often include:
- Have a plan: It is a huge burden to leave a second spouse with an out of date will, trust or estate plan or no plan at all. They can guess what the wishes of the decedent were, but it will often lead to emotional or even legal disputes. Moreover, as with any estate, it is a mistake to leave your loved ones without a comprehensive estate plan.
- Create a trust for the spouse: If a subsequent spouse outlives the decedent, a trust can ensure that they can live comfortably until their death, at which time the remaining assets can be dispersed as planned.
- Pick the right executor or trustee: A spouse or child may not have the ability or interest in managing the estate, make important decisions that can affect others and even handle the paperwork involved.
- Choose the right person to handle healthcare decisions: Many elderly people are unable to make informed healthcare decisions in their final years, so it is best to pick someone comfortable with handling this burden.
- Remarriage contingency: A spouse may choose to remarry, which can make matters more complicated if a will or trust does not address this.
- Update the plan: Ideally, the estate plan was updated after the first divorce and again after remarrying.
- Pass some assets to beneficiaries upon death: It often makes sense to pass a business or some other assets to children or beneficiaries upon death, particularly when they are not intended for the surviving spouse.
It begins with a conversation with an attorney
Experienced estate law attorneys based here in Florida can help clients draft or update their estate plan to address the needs of a blended family. They can also work with the deceased's family, guiding them through probate or trust administration, executing the decedent's estate plan, and addressing any unforeseen issues that may arise.