Estate planning in the 21st century has seen a shift from the traditional family to blended families. Estate planning for blended families requires more than simple “sweetheart wills” distributing assets upon one’s passing “to my spouse and then to our kids equally”.

With the diverse make-up of today’s family, one of the top issues clients desire guidance on is how to provide for their current spouse, partner or significant other after their passing and still provide an inheritance to their children from a prior marriage or relationship.

When people ask for advice on this matter, I mention that each family is like a snowflake, each is different and unique — and each person will have a different estate plan.  There is no one correct answer and no one size fits all estate plan for any family, especially a blended family.

The role of an estate planning attorney is to listen to their clients, to assist them in recognizing their estate planning goals and objectives, to provide pertinent legal advice, to guide them in making informed decisions for their estate plan and to prepare legal documents that facilitate that estate plan.

A common estate planning objective of a spouse of a blended family is that upon their passing, they wish to provide for their current spouse, and then, when that spouse has died, to distribute the remainder of what is left of their estate to children. The details make each family’s plan unique. Will the surviving spouse have control of all assets? Will the children of both spouses or only one spouse receive property in the final distribution?

Many times, one spouse (Spouse “A”) comes into a marriage with substantially more assets than the other spouse (Spouse “B”). As such, Spouse “A” may wish to provide for surviving Spouse “B” during his or her lifetime but then have remaining assets distributed only to the children of Spouse “A”.  This objective can be facilitated by including a trust for surviving Spouse “B” in the will of Spouse “A” which names a trustee or trustees to manage the trust assets for the benefit of Spouse “B” and provides for distribution standards by which Spouse “B” will receive trust assets. To accomplish the stated example objective, the trust would also provide for the distribution of the remaining trust assets at the passing of Spouse “B” to the children of Spouse “A” only. Providing clear provisions in a person’s will assure that the estate planning objectives of the deceased spouse are met.

Another frequent topic of discussion with blended family clients is that of the marital home. Many times the home of a blended family was owned 100% by Spouse “A” before the marriage occurred and was retained in that manner after the marriage. When this is the case, a second common objective of the blended family is to provide to Spouse “B”, who does not own the home, a right to occupy the home until he or she can no longer live there and at the same time include in the estate plan a method to insure that the home is eventually sold and the proceeds eventually distributed to the children of Spouse “A”. This can be accomplished by provisions in the will of Spouse “A” giving Spouse “B” the right to occupy the home and the obligations to pay certain expenses of the home. Then after Spouse “B” no longer occupies the home, the will could require the home to be sold with the sale proceeds distributed to the children of Spouse “A” to make certain that the estate planning objective is met.

If you are a spouse of a blended family, the estate planning attorneys of HRMM&L would be happy to meet with you, discuss your goals and objectives and make sure you understand your options. We can work with you to develop an estate plan that works best for your blended family and give you peace of mind that your estate planning desires and objectives will be met.