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Estate Planning for Blended Families and Stepchildren
In most cases, blended families live together in perfect harmony. But what happens when one spouse dies? What becomes of the deceased spouse’s biological children in regards to inheritance? With a blended family, estate planning is especially important. Here are some things that can help you when planning your estate with a blended family and stepchildren.
Dividing Your Assets
Step-children aren’t usually intentionally omitted from parents’ estate plans. In many cases, parents treat both biological and step-children the same. However, in some instances, a parent may want to provide for their children and their step-children a little differently.
If you have a blended family, you may choose to divide your assets among your biological children and your step-children equally. Or you may want to provide for them differently, taking into account the additional sources of financial support or inheritance either the biological or step-children have.
Naming Specific Beneficiaries
A parent can choose to name his or her own children as the beneficiaries of portions of his or her estate, or specific properties. A parent can do the same for step-children.
Timing of Distribution
An important consideration in estate planning for blended families and step-children is the timing of distributions. Do you wait to have all distributions to both biological and step-children paid after both spouse’s lifetimes or do you have some distributions made to one or both groups of children after the lifetime of one of the spouses?
Revising an Old Will
If you have a will, trust or other estate planning documents already in place, you will want to review them carefully once you have been remarried. See what sections should be updated to include, or not include, your step-children.
Make a thorough list of everything you want to add or remove in your new will and other documents. You will also want to discuss your plans with your spouse, and your children and step-children if they are old enough to understand.
Talking to an Attorney
When biological and step-children are involved, it is best to be very specific and very careful when it comes to the terms of your will or trust. For this, talking with a Phoenix estate planning attorney to get legal assistance is your best route. Here are some questions you can talk to your attorney about.
- Are step-children automatically included in the definition of “child,” “dependent,” or “descendant”? Or will I need to specifically include or omit them?
- How can I be sure to include, or exclude, my step-children in my will?
- May a step-child contest my will?
- How will including my step-children in my will affect my biological children?
- If I die before my spouse, can he or she disinherit my children?
- How can I be sure my estate plan cannot be changed after my lifetime?
When it comes to estate planning, having a blended family can complicate matters. If you have step-children, you will need to decide if, and how, you want to include them in your estate plan. If you are going to provide for a surviving spouse, you also need to think about your desired distributions to your biological children and the protection and timing of those desired distributions. Think about what you ultimately want to accomplish with your estate plan and talk to an attorney who specializes in this area about your wishes.
Ability of Surviving Spouse to Change the Plan
Another important consideration, especially if you decide to delay all distributions until after the lifetime of both spouses, is what aspects of the estate plan should the surviving spouse be able to change? Sometimes when everything is left to the surviving spouse with the understanding, but not legal requirement, that both biological and step-children will be provided for after both spouses lifetime, that plan gets changed and the first spouse to dies children (the surviving spouses step-children) get written out of the estate plan. The legal language of the plan is critical in determining the ultimate distribution of the estate.
Written By Brent Gunderson
1930 N. Arboleda, Suite 201
Mesa, Arizona 85213
40 N. Central Avenue, Suite 1400-1532
Phoenix, AZ 85004
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