“You got a package deal!” Proudly proclaimed my step-son as he hugged me good night with a huge grin on his face. The truth is he was completely right! My twelve year old son is everything a mom/step mom could ask for. When I married the man of my prayers last year, I not only became a wife but a mother. Like millions of Americans, I have a blended family. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, blended families now outnumber traditional families in America. Interestingly enough, rising divorce rates are not the only thing feeding the statistic. With longer life spans people are outliving their spouses and remarrying.
While blended families can be wonderful, exciting and truly refine the notion of family; blended families can make estate planning more difficult. Over the years we have worked with hundreds of blended families and found that while their planning can be complex, each family is unique.
In a blended family, providing for everyone you love can be tricky. To properly provide for your loved ones, you need an estate plan that fits you and your situation. Without one, you have no way of making sure that what you want to happen will actually happen. Relying on your spouse and children to “work it out” is not a plan. The good news is that you are not in this alone. An experienced estate planning attorney can be a valuable resource to help you get the plan you want.
However, even before speaking to an attorney you can do some ground work that will make your planning stress free. First, set aside some quiet time to sit alone and with your spouse to figure out your most important estate planning goals and what you would like to have happen with you and your assets (house, car, jewelry and other personal items, investments, insurance, retirement plans. and brokerage accounts) when you or your spouse pass away. Pick a time and place free of distractions, and be prepared to listen. You will probably want to take some time to reflect before making important decisions about these issues. Also, discuss if your wishes might change based on who passes away first, so think through each scenario, unpleasant as it may be.
Next, you should review any beneficiary designations you have made on insurance policies or retirement accounts. Many people forget to change their beneficiary designations when they get divorced or remarried, so make sure your accounts and plans and insurance beneficiaries are up-to-date with your wishes.
Also, if you know there are specific items you would like to leave to your children, start putting together a list. Make a note to address these in writing in your final plan. One of the biggest mistakes people in blended families make is that they are not specific about leaving tangible personal property to their children. Failing to do this, can create disappointment and chaos if the children don’t receive an item they believe their parent wanted them to have–even if it is of little financial value, but has sentimental value.
For more advice and help from your oldest daughter, check out our website at www.mleelaw.com and request the report “Fifteen Common Reasons to do Estate Planning”.