Estate Planning for Blended Families

Seven Tips for Estate Planning for Blended Families 

Picture of By: Shannon McNulty, Attorney, The Village Law Firm

By: Shannon McNulty, Attorney, The Village Law Firm

Shannon's work is sophisticated and reflects her deep knowledge of the laws governing estates, taxation and child guardianship issues. Shannon approaches each client with sensitivity and compassion, understanding that many of the decisions that they will have to make can be difficult.

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The blending of two families can provide an abundance of love and support; it can also raise a host of difficult estate planning questions.  Preventing disputes and ensuring that all parties are fairly provided for requires thoughtful planning and implementing proper legal structures.   

Below are seven tips for crafting a plan that respects both your new spouse and your children. 

1. Transparent Communication: Be open with your partner about your intentions. Just as you’ve navigated sensitive topics before, approach this one with empathy and clarity. Ensure that all parties, especially children from prior relationships, understand your decisions to prevent feelings of neglect or resentment. 

2. Consider the Use of Trusts: Instead of bequeathing assets to your partner directly, you may want to leave assets to a trust for your partner in order to ensure that the assets will be protected for your children when your partner passes away.  A trust can protect assets from unintended beneficiaries, external claims, or even impulsive decisions.  You may also want to leave a separate bequest for your children from another relationship so that they don’t have to wait until your partner dies to receive their inheritance.  

3. Update Beneficiary Designations: Blended families frequently juggle multiple financial products from different life stages. It’s easy to overlook beneficiary designations on life insurance policies, retirement accounts, or previous wills. Regularly review and, if necessary, update these to reflect your current wishes. 

4. Powers of Attorney and Medical Directives: These documents are integral to any estate plan but take on added significance in blended families. Having these documents in order ensures that your health and financial decisions rest in hands you trust. 

5. Appoint Neutral Fiduciaries: Choosing an executor or trustee can be a delicate matter in blended families. Appointing a child from a previous marriage or the new spouse can create friction or perceptions of bias. To navigate this, consider appointing a neutral third-party or a professional fiduciary. This way, you can minimize conflict and ensure an impartial and fair distribution of assets. 

6. Incorporate a ‘No-Contest’ Clause: A no-contest clause can act as a deterrent against beneficiaries contesting your will or trust. If a beneficiary challenges the estate plan and loses, they risk forfeiting their inheritance. While it’s not foolproof, it can serve as a deterrent against unnecessary legal battles. 

7. Prenuptial or Postnuptial Agreements: While pre- and post-nuptial agreements are often thought about in the context of divorce, they can play an important role in estate planning as well.  In the absence of a marital agreement, a surviving spouse is entitled to one-third of your estate – even if your will leaves all your assets to your children.  A pre- or post-nuptial agreement can waive a spouse’s estate rights so that the parties have more flexibility in bequeathing their assets. 

Creating a thoughtful estate plan is critical to preserving family harmony after you’re gone.  Working with an experienced estate planning attorney can ensure that your wishes are respected and that your legacy honors all members of your family. 

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