In 2021, the typical American family looks far different than it may have in decades past. There are a number of ways to be a family – from single-parent households to cohabitating parents to blended families. According to a recent survey, as many as 16% of all children in the United States live in a blended family, with a stepparent, stepsibling, or half-sibling.
If you are one of the millions of Americans living in a blended family, you may have questions about how to handle certain issues – such as planning your estate. Blended family estate plans can be more complicated than other types of plans, as you may want to provide for your spouse, your own children, and/or your stepchildren in different ways. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to accomplish your goals, using options such as premarital and marital agreements, trusts, life estates, and limited partnerships.
A seasoned El Paso estate planning attorney can help you take an inventory of your assets and develop a strategy for passing on your wealth in a way that makes sense for your blended family. Starting with a free consultation, Forbes & Forbes can work with you to put together an estate plan that meets your needs.
What to Consider in a Blended Family Estate Plan
Blended families can take many forms. They may include a married couple in which one or both spouses have children from a previous marriage, families whose children are in a second or subsequent marriage, or even families whose sons or daughters-in-law have children from previous marriages. These situations are incredibly common, but they can present unique estate planning challenges.
If you are in a blended family, your priority in estate planning may be to provide for your spouse, biological children, and grandchildren. You may also want to provide for your stepchildren and step-grandchildren as well. Whatever you decide, a careful estate plan can ensure that your wishes are followed.
If you are already married, then your estate planning will typically begin with taking an inventory of your assets, including:
- Real property;
- Life insurance policies;
- Business interests;
- Retirement plans
- Stocks and bonds; and
- Investment accounts.
Once you understand the full scope of your assets, the next step is to figure out how you want to provide for your surviving spouse, children, step-children, and other loved ones. This can be challenging, particularly in families with difficult dynamics.
A typical will for a blended family may include a number of features, such as:
- A life estate, where the surviving spouse receives an interest in property for life, with the property to pass onto named beneficiaries upon their death;
- Mutual or contract will provisions whereby one spouse cannot be changed without the written consent of both parties. This prevents one spouse from disinheriting their stepchildren after the other dies;
- A trust to provide for a surviving spouse during their lifetime, with the balance to the children upon their death; and/or
- Provisions to leave a portion of assets directly to children or grandchildren.
In addition, a number of other devices can be used to ensure that your assets are protected and your property is divided in accordance with your wishes. For example, you may change the beneficiary on your life insurance policy, annuity, and/or retirement plan to ensure that these assets go directly to your specified heirs. Alternatively, you can set up a trust or even make your children or stepchildren joint owners of your property.
Other estate planning options may include:
- Premarital and marital agreements, which set forth the spouses’ rights and financial responsibilities during the course of the marriage and with regards to their estate;
- Spray spendthrift trusts, which are designed to benefit the surviving spouse and children;
- Irrevocable life insurance trusts, which provide for the children while the remaining estate provides for the surviving spouse;
- Bloodline trusts, which are set up to keep money or assets within the family;
- Family limited partnerships (FLPs) or limited liability corporations (LLCs), which can be used to transfer and protect assets;
- Qualified terminable interest property trusts (QTIPs), which gives the surviving spouse the right to income from assets held by the trust; and/or
- Disclaimer trusts, which allow a surviving spouse to disclaim certain assets into a trust after inheriting them outright.
The specific devices that you may require will depend on your unique situation and how you want to dispose of your assets.
Estate Planning for Step Children in Texas
Blended families who have step-children are presented with the question of whether to provide only for their biological children in an estate plan or to also leave assets to their step-children. At the same time, most blended families are concerned with providing for their surviving spouse.
Each family is different, and the best way to accomplish estate planning goals will depend on their unique dynamics. For example, if there is bad blood between your spouse and your biological children, or if your spouse favors their biological children over yours, you may want to take steps to ensure that your children are not disinherited if you pass away first.
If you have step-children, you may be dealing with competing concerns of how much you want to leave to your surviving spouse versus your children. You may also want to leave some portion of your estate to your step-children.
A skilled El Paso estate lawyer can help you determine how to best accomplish your goals. For example, if you are worried that leaving everything to your spouse will effectively disinherit your own children, then you may choose to draft contracts or mutual wills. Alternatively, you may decide to leave certain assets directly to your biological children to avoid the issue entirely.
Whatever your situation may be, estate planning for blended families in Texas requires assistance from an attorney who understands the intricacies of the law. By working collaboratively with a lawyer, you can make sure that your surviving spouse and children are provided for in accordance with your wishes.
Estate Planning Help for Blended Families in El Paso
If you are in your second (or greater) marriage, then you are probably familiar with the difficulties of bringing two families together. From figuring out how to effectively co-parent to deciding where to live, there are often many bumps along the road to achieving family harmony. Having a solid estate plan in place for your blended family can help to keep the peace, even after you are gone.
At Forbes & Forbes Law, we are highly skilled at all aspects of estate planning. With decades of combined experience in Texas, we know how to help our clients achieve their estate planning goals. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation with an El Paso estate planning attorney, give our law office a call at 915-533-5441 or fill out our online contact form.