Blended families were once considered “non-traditional” families, but today, blended families are becoming just as common as non-blended families. Currently, 52% of married couples (or unmarried couples who live together) have a step-kin relationship of some kind, and 4 in 10 new marriages involve remarriage.
If you're part of a blended family, you've probably recognized the extra layer of complexity that comes with planning for your family's needs and accommodating the many relationships that exist between step-parents, step-kids, and step-siblings. Topics that might be straightforward for a “traditional” family - such as where to spend the holidays or who gets the old family car - are more complex.
Feelings tend to be more sensitive, as the person in a “step” role may feel self-conscious about their place as the “outsider” of the family, whereas on the other hand, one parent's children may feel put out by the addition of a new step-parent, step-sibling, or half-sibling when their mother or father remarries.
In a blended family, you work hard to navigate these complexities to keep the family unified and happy. But what you might not know is that our laws for what happens if you become incapacitated or die are still very much based on the traditional family model, which means that your blended family will likely end up in court and conflict without planning for them in advance.
Avoid Conflict in Your Blended Family Through Open Communication
Estate planning is often seen as a highly private affair, but it doesn't have to be, and oftentimes, shouldn't be. In the case of a blended family, having open conversations with your loved ones about your estate plan and your goals for the family can save them from hurt feelings and even court battles in the future.
Like all families, how you plan for your blended family will depend entirely on your family dynamics, your family members' situations, and your own personal values for how an inheritance should (or shouldn't) be received and what kind of legacy you want to leave behind.
Maybe you have step-kids and biological kids but want all of your children to inherit an equal share from you and your spouse. Maybe there's a large age gap between your step-kids and biological child, so you want to make sure that your youngest has the financial support they'll need if something happens to you whereas the older children are able to support themselves.
Maybe you have a step-parent or step-sibling that you would want to gift a special item of yours like a watch or necklace. Well, for better or worse, a person you have a step-relationship with has no right to inherit from you under the law, unless you put your plan in writing.
You don't need to give away every detail of your Will or Trust, or tell everyone who you named to make decisions for you if you're incapacitated. Instead, start by having an open conversation about the general goal of your estate plan, such as wanting everyone to have an equal share, or that you want to provide more for your biological children because your step-children will already receive a full inheritance from their other parent.
By taking the mystery out of your estate plan goals, your stepchildren will feel included in the discussion and feel like they are knowledgeable about your plan rather than feeling hoodwinked or hurt if they find out later that your plan doesn't align with the expectations they created for it in their minds.
Most importantly, let the people in your life know you value and love them, and that no matter how they're related to you, you care about them and want them to inherit not just material things from you, but also your values, stories, and legacy.
Create More Than a Plan, Create a Family Legacy
To make sure your wishes for your blended family are followed in the event of your death or incapacity, it's essential to have a well-crafted estate plan created by an attorney experienced in serving blended families. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, I know all too well the importance of planning for blended families and can help you navigate your options and desires for your family's plan.
But what really sets me apart from other estate planning lawyers is that I know that your material possessions are only a small part of a successful estate plan. What will really matter to your family members, no matter how they became your family, is your legacy.
If you want to protect your blended family from a court battle and emotional conflict, give me a call today to schedule a Life & Legacy Planning Session. During the Session, I take the time to really get to know you and your family's unique situation and educate you about what exactly will happen to your family under the law if something happened to you right now, so you can make confident decisions about what's right for your family. Even more, I welcome you to invite the members of your blended family to be a part of the conversation.
Click here to schedule your free introductory call today.
This article is a service of Jason Johnson, Personal Family Lawyer®. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you've ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today at 410-570-1671 to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.
The content is sourced from Personal Family Lawyer® for use by Personal Family Lawyer® firms, a source believed to be providing accurate information. This material was created for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as ERISA, tax, legal, or investment advice. If you are seeking legal advice specific to your needs, such advice services must be obtained on your own separate from this educational material.