Estate planning with a blended family can be tricky.
On the one hand, spouses may want to leave an inheritance for their children of a previous marriage.
But at the same time, they may also want to leave a sizeable proportion of their estate to the spouse of a new marriage.
Planning your estate always comes with complications and sometimes tough decisions.
But there are steps you can take ensure you provide a meaningful inheritance to the people who matter most.
What is a blended family?
Blended families are becoming more and more common.
With divorce rates rising, many people are remarrying and forming new families, in addition to their children from previous marriages.
This can cause complications for estate planning, as where once partners may have already written wills with one family, commitments to their new family may mean that the existing will may need to be rewritten.
What are the challenges of a blended family?
Many blended families have no issues when it comes to estate planning.
But in some circumstances, inheritance planning can end up being more complicated for blended families, particularly ones where there isn’t a rigorously planned will, and ones where spouses have lost contact with their previous partner.
For example, many children often assume that the assets of one of their parents will be passed down to them.
But should their parents remarry, some wills can be voided, and may be rewritten to reflect the changing circumstances of the surviving spouse and their new relationship.
Without open and honest communication, and proper legal advice, blended families can accidently leave important family members out of inheritance planning.
Why are family members disinherited?
Disinheritance can happen in blended families in a few different ways.
Many spouses don’t leave a will at all, meaning their estate can be entirely or mostly inherited by the surviving spouse — with children inheriting almost nothing.
Where a clear and rigorous will is absent, intestacy laws apply.
These laws make automatic provisions for the division of a person’s estate, but take little account for blended relationships.
These laws were designed for traditional family types, and don’t offer any significant support to blended families, unmarried partners or unregistered marriages.
Needless to say, leaving estate planning to intestacy laws usually leaves a blended family unhappy with the arrangement.
In a similar vein, many spouses are comfortable leaving their assets to their partner on the assumption they will do the right thing and ensure children receive their inheritance.
But over time, the surviving spouse may decide to remarry, and may lose contact with their previous family.
Having to balance commitments to their previous and new families, spouses sometimes have to make tricky decisions on who receives their assets, and this can mean the children from previous marriages can be accidentally or intentionally disinherited.
How can blended families plan their estates?
1. Consider a trust
There are certain trusts you can set up and deposit funds and assets in that can help plan your estate.
A Life Interest Trust allows a beneficiary to register an interest in an asset for the duration of their lifetime.
When that person’s interest ends, whether due to the ending of a marriage or death, the asset isn transferred to another beneficiary.
These trusts allow surviving partners to receive income or use an asset before it is then inherited by another beneficiary.
This means that surviving partners can be supported, without children from a previous marriage being disinherited.
2. Leave gifts to your children
One of the easiest solutions to ensuring your estate is planned effectively is leaving a guaranteed gift to your children.
Though you should be aware of the tax laws around gifting money to your relatives, leaving some specific gifts can give your descendants peace of mind that they won’t miss out on their inheritance.
3. Hold property as tenants in common
Property that is jointly owned by two couples can be held as tenants in common on specific shares.
As an example, a property could be owned 50/50 by both partners. This means that when one partner passes away, their share of the property passes to their estate and can be left to the beneficiaries.
4. Will in contemplation of marriage
Remarrying requires making substantial changes to your estate will.
Firstly, it’s important to remember that any will a spouse wrote in a former marriage will be voided in the event of the spouse re-marrying.
To avoid this happening, a spouse can make a will in contemplation of marriage. This prevents a will from being voided in the case of remarriage.
And, whether or not a spouse is planning to remarry, it’s always important to have open communication with family members and spouses so that everybody has a good idea of what they can expect from estate planning.
Estate planning can be a tricky and complicated process at the best of times, and although it can be even more complex for blended families, planning ahead can help ensure your family members aren’t met with unexpected and unplanned for surprises.
If you need help planning your estate, a financial adviser or accountant can provide you with important and timely advice.
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