Not all that long ago, divorce, remarriage, and “blended families” were not all that common in the United States. Today, about 50 percent of first marriages end in divorce and four out of every 10 new marriages includes at least one previously married partner. Those second, and subsequent, marriages frequently create “blended families.” In fact, about one out of three marriages in the U.S. creates a stepfamily, resulting in 40 percent of all married couples with children being part of a blended family. Cumulatively, there are over 100 million Americans who are part of a “step” relationship. If you are currently part of a blended family, or are planning a wedding that will create a stepfamily, you need to know why estate planning is so important for blended families.
Family dynamics are never the same from one family to another. When you blend two families, you can get a virtually endless number of outcomes. Some blended families are closer than many traditional families. Conversely, some blended families never really blend well. Regardless of which camp your blended family falls into, there are a number of practical and legal consequences that result when two families become one. To avoid misunderstandings, and even litigation, in the future, it is critical that you and your spouse address how you plan to handle money and property after you are married. Specifically, you and your spouse need to review and revise your estate plans if you already have them, or crate them if you don’t already have them.
A well thought out estate plan will determine what happens to your estate assets after your death as well as who will control those assets and who will make decisions for you in the event of your own incapacity. If you have children from a previous relationship you undoubtedly wish to protect and provide for them after you are gone.
Because assets can become co-mingled during a marriage it is often a good idea to enter into a pre-nuptial agreement prior to getting married to make it clear which assets will remain with which partner in the event of divorce or death.
In addition, incapacity planning is important because you want to ensure that your assets remain available for the care and support of your own children should something happen to you that renders you incapacitated.
Finally, you will want to have a very detailed and thorough estate plan that makes it clear how each spouse’s assets will be handled upon death. This is particularly important if your blended family includes children that are “yours, mine, and ours.” Hopefully, you can count on your spouse to do the right thing and protect your children from a previous marriage by ensuring that they receive assets you intended them to have; however, it is always best to make sure they are protected by creating an estate plan than requires your spouse to honor your wishes.
If you have additional questions or concerns about estate planning for blended families, contact the experienced Missouri estate planning attorneys at Amen, Gantner & Capriano, Your Estate Matters, LLC by calling (314) 966-8077 to schedule an appointment.