Second Marriages & Estate Planning: It's Complicated

Second Marriages & Estate Planning: It's Complicated

A common issue for families in modern America is the need for estate planning in blended families. Estate planning is important in general, but a well-crafted estate plan can be a lifesaver when you have a blended family.

What is a blended family?

For the sake of this post, we will define a "blended family" as a family where one or both of the spouses have had a prior marriage with children. Basically, a blended family pops up when two people get married but one of them has been married before and already has children.

Why is a blended family complicated?

Intestacy (dying without a will) doesn't take blended families into account. If you die without a will, your property will generally go to your spouse, and if you're divorced or widowed, to your children. But if you are on a second marriage and had children with your first spouse, or if your spouse has children that came before your marriage, things get very murky.

Example # 1: Children from Your First Marriage

Let's look at the first example. You have two children with your ex-wife. You and your ex-wfie get along well enough and you're a consistent presence in your childrens' lives. You meet someone and get remarried. Your children love her and you love her dearly too. Not long after, tragedy strikes and you are diagnosed with cancer. Your children, new wife, and ex-wife all take care of you and are there for you, but you ultimately succumb to cancer. You never had a will.

Your children, that you love dearly and want to take care of? They aren't going to get taken care of by your estate. Your wife might be generous, but she's not obligated to. Why? The rules of intestacy make her the first person in line if you pass away. If you die before she does, all of your property becomes hers to do with as she pleases. Your prior children are left out, not out of spite, but by mistake.

Example # 2: Step-Children

Let's take the second example, where your spouse had a child before you met him or her. You raise that child as though they were your own, and they grow up to be college age. Tragedy strikes when they are 18 and their father dies. You've basically raised them as your own for the last decade or so and you want to take care of them. On your way home from work you are in a car accident and pass away. Oh, and you don't have a will.

Your husband's child, that you raised as your own, will almost certainly get nothing because intestacy rules do not consider that child to be your child. They are out of luck.

Estate planning for blended families is important

Thankfully, there are ways to avoid these issues. A well-crafted will or trust can avoid the problems outlined above. But you need someone who understands your needs and plans according. DIY or online form sellers just won't cut it.

This is just an overview of blended estate planning. I'll talk about it in much greater detail in later posts.

Thanks for reading.