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’ve got a blended family.
Bottom line: if you have a blended family, you need an estate plan, and not just a will you created for yourself online, or a trust that isn’t very intentionally designed to keep your family out of court and out of conflict. Period. End of story. Unless you are okay with setting your loved ones up for unnecessary heartache, confusion, and pain when something happens to you.
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-kin 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.
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 Hawaii, if you are survived by a spouse, your surviving spouse would only receive part of your estate if you don't have children together and have living parents (they would receive the rest). If you or your spouse have children from another relationship, your spouse will likewise receive only part of your estate.
In contrast, in California, all community property assets would go to your surviving spouse, and separate property assets would be distributed partially to a surviving spouse and partially to children, if living, in amounts depending on the number of surviving children.
In Texas, it can get very complex, depending on whether your assets are separate or community, and whether you have children from the marriage, no children from the marriage, or living parents or siblings.
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.
Even within “traditional” families, aka first marriage with children only from that relationship, 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 arise in a blended family is that the deceased’s children from a prior marriage and the surviving spouse end up in conflict. This one is sadly common. 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 the advice of a professional 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.
This article is a service of the Law Office of Keoni Souza, LLC, an estate planning law firm in Honolulu, Hawaii. 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 is why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you have ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by contacting 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.
Disclaimer: Unfortunately, I am not your lawyer unless you have paid me for legal advice and we have a signed agreement. Therefore, all information on this website is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. You should contact an attorney trained to work with families on estate planning matters regarding your specific situation. Use of and access to this website or any of the email links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between the Law Office of Keoni Souza, LLC, and any users or any other party.