Many Minnesotans don’t have an estate plan, either because they assume they have plenty of time, they assume that inheritances will work themselves out, or both. Unfortunately, you can’t rely on either assumption – especially with the tricky dynamics of blended families.
If you are in a second (or later marriage) with children and stepchildren from previous relationships, it is critical to create a detailed estate plan that specifically addresses everyone you wish to leave assets to. Failing to take these precautions could lead to family strife and even litigation related to the estate.
In a recent advice column, one estate planning attorney uses the Brady Bunch as an example – perhaps the most well-known blended family in America. What would have happened if the father Mike had died first and left everything to his wife Carol? She could hypothetically choose to disinherit her three stepsons and leave everything to her daughters. Even if she did include them in her own will, they would need to wait until she passed away to inherit anything from their father (which creates the potential for an unwanted family dynamic).
Thankfully, there are options that make it easier to take care of everyone without relying on continuing goodwill between step-relatives. If you do plan to leave most of your assets to your spouse, consider setting aside some to leave to your children upon your death (to avoid the unwanted dynamic mentioned above).
Additionally, you could pass your assets to your surviving spouse in a trust with a provision passing the remaining assets to your children after your spouse dies. This protects against any disinheritance problems that could arise if the relationship sours or if your spouse remarries after your death.
None of this is to say that family members shouldn’t trust one another. Most blended families get along very well and consider one another full-blood relatives. But most estate planning attorneys will tell you that time and grief can make people act in surprising ways. By being specific with your own estate planning wishes, you can ensure that the assets you leave behind help and strengthen those you love – not cause needless division.
If you are ready to get started on your own estate plan or need to update it for a blended family, please consult with an experienced estate planning attorney in your area.