If you have a blended family and do not plan for what happens to your assets in the event of your incapacity or eventual death, you are almost certainly guaranteeing hurt feelings, conflict, and maybe even a long, drawn out court battle.
So let’s start with clarity around what a blended family is and whether you have one. If you have stepchildren, or children from a prior marriage, or other people you consider “kin” who are not considered legal relatives in the eyes of the law, you have a blended family.
If you have a blended family, it is imperative to have an appropriate estate plan that disposes of your assets according to your wishes. Online documents prepared without your unique family situation in mind or passing away with no plan at all can leave your family confused, conflicted, and in court.
What Will the Law Do?
“Blended Families, once considered “non-traditional” families are swiftly becoming the norm. Currently 52% of married couples (or unmarried couples who live together) have a step relationship of some kind, and 4 in 10 new marriages involve remarriage. So clearly, this is no longer “non-traditional” but quite traditional, though our laws about what happens if you become incapacitated or die are still very much based on the traditional ideas of family.
Every state has different provisions for what happens when you become incapacitated or die, and the laws of the state where you become incapacitated or die may or may not match your wishes.
For example, in Virginia, if you are survived by a spouse and children from a previous marriage/relationship, your surviving spouse would only receive 1/3rd of your estate, and your surviving children would receive the remaining 2/3rds.
In contrast, in Maryland, if you are survived by a spouse and minor children, the spouse takes 1/2 and the remaining 1/2 is split between the surviving minor children. However, if your surviving children are adults when you pass away, your spouse will inherit $15,000 and 1/2 of the rest of the estate, which is split with the surviving adult children (who split it amongst themselves.).
In D.C., it gets even more complex. If there is a surviving spouse and descendants of the deceased who are not descendants of the surviving spouse, then 1/2 of the estate goes to the surviving spouse and the remaining 1/2 goes to the surviving children who are not the child of the surviving spouse. This means if the decedent and surviving spouse had a child(ren) together, or the surviving spouse has other children who were not the decedent’s, those children would not inherit.
As close as D.C., Maryland and Virginia are geographically, you would think their laws of intestate succession would be the same or at least more similar. However, laws of intestate succession vary from state to state and can change at any time. Notice how none of these statutes take step children into consideration (although they may be a very important part of your life). These are examples to show you that where you die, and what’s true when you die, may not result in the outcome you want for your loved ones, especially if you have a blended family situation.
So, here’s what you do to make sure that things do go the way you want: call us and schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session. While the session is normally $750, if you do some homework ahead of time (homework that’s going to make sure your family can find everything you have if and when you become incapacitated or die), we’ll waive the Family Wealth Planning Session fee for you, and spend two hours getting to know you, your family dynamics, and your assets, and teach you about the law here in our county and how it would impact your family and your assets in the event of your incapacity or death, so you can ensure that things go the way you want for the people you love.
Even within “traditional” families, aka married parents with families, I want to emphasize that having a full plan is the best way to provide for your loved ones. However, with “blended” families, carefully considered estate plans are, as you can see, even more vital to avoid massive misunderstanding and conflict, and having your assets tied up in court instead of going to the people you want to receive them.
Disputes Between Spouse and Children from Previous Marriage
One of the most common problems that arises in a blended family is that the deceased’s children from a prior marriage and the surviving spouse end up in conflict. Unless a comprehensive plan has been created, it could be very easy for your surviving spouse to cut your kids out completely.
When you’re considering all of these factors for the people you love, it’s important to have a Personal Family Lawyer® who can help you look at the reality of what will happen if you become incapacitated or when you die. With the complexities of modern families, it’s better to know than to leave it to the law or a court to provide. That way, not only do the people you love get the assets that you want them to receive, but you may also be saving them from years of legal conflict. Just give us a call and we’ll help you review your options.
This article is a service of Reflections Life Planning LLC, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t 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 to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.