Estate Planning for Blended Families

When a couple in a blended family fails to address what will happen after the first spouse dies, families often find themselves embroiled in disputes.  According to the article “In blended families, estate planning can have unintended issues” from The News-Enterprise, this is more likely to occur when spouses marry after their separate children are already adults, don’t live in the parent’s home and have their own lives and families.

In this case, the spouse is seen as the parent’s spouse, rather than the child’s parent. There may be love and respect. However, it’s a different relationship from long-term blended families where the stepparent was actively engaged with all of the children’s upbringing and parents consider all of the children as their own.

For the long-term blended family, the planning must be intentional. However, there may be less concern about the surviving spouse changing beneficiaries and depriving the other spouse’s children of their inheritance. The estate planning attorney will still raise this issue, and the family can decide how important it is to them.

When relationships between spouses and stepchildren are not as close, or are rocky, estate planning must proceed as if the relationship between stepparents and stepsiblings will evaporate on the death of the natural parent. If one spouse’s intention is to leave all of their wealth to the surviving spouse, the plan must anticipate trouble.

One very common approach to this issue is to set up a trust for the surviving spouse, which is often called a marital trust.  This establishes a trust for the benefit of the spouse, but whatever remains in the trust will go to the deceased spouse’s beneficiaries.  So, you can have your spouse benefit from your money, but make sure what’s left goes to your kids.

In some families, there is no intent to deprive anyone of an inheritance. However, failing to plan appropriately—having a will, setting up trusts, etc.—is not done and the estate plan disinherits children.

It’s important for the will, trusts and any other estate planning documents to define the term “children” and in some cases, use the specific names of the children. This is especially important when there are other family members with the same or similar names or perhaps a lack of clarity as to who the children are.

In Texas, this issue is even bigger when you don’t have an estate plan for a blended family.  If the decedent raised a stepchild in their home, they could potentially be considered a child of the decedent through adoption by estoppel.  If that’s true, then they are a child as far as the estate is concerned.

As long as the parents are well and healthy, estate plans can be amended. If one of the parents becomes incapacitated, changes cannot be legally made to their wills. If one spouse dies and the survivor remarries and names a new spouse as their beneficiary, it’s possible for all of the children to lose their inheritances.

Most people don’t intend to disinherit their own children or their stepchildren when estate planning for blended families. However, this occurs often when the spouses neglect to revise their estate plan when they marry again, or if there is no estate plan at all. An estate planning attorney has seen many different versions of this and can create a plan to achieve your wishes and protect your children.

It also makes sense to consider the children’s role in your finances as you age as the blended family situation may complicate the matter.  See this article where I addressed that more specifically.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/the-blended-family-and-issues-with-finances-and-estate-planning/  

A final note: be realistic about what may occur when you pass. While your spouse may fully intend to maintain relationships with your children, lives and relationships change. Clients often struggle to confront this or admit it to themselves, but I assure you it comes out later, and we can plan better when all of the issues are addressed.  With an intentional estate plan, parents can take comfort in knowing their property will be passed to the next generation—or two—as they wish.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (Dec. 7, 2021) “In blended families, estate planning can have unintended issues”

 

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Read more about the article How Do Trusts Work in Your Estate Plan?
Trusts offer many benefits, so speak with your attorney on how to fit them in your estate plan.

How Do Trusts Work in Your Estate Plan?

Trusts offer many benefits including probate avoidance, tax and disability planning and protecting beneficiaries.
Trusts offer many benefits including probate avoidance, tax and disability planning and protecting beneficiaries.

Trusts can be useful tools for passing on assets, allowing them to be held by a responsible trustee for the benefit of the beneficiaries. However, determining which type of trust is best for each family’s situation and setting them up so they work with an estate plan can be complex. You’ll do better with the help of an estate planning attorney, says The Street in the article “How to Set Up a Trust Fund: What You Need to Know.”

There are lots of reasons to use trusts.  Many are used to avoid the time and difficulty involved with the probate process.  Others are used for estate tax planning and Medicaid planning.  Still others are used to pass financial assets to beneficiaries who might not be able to use them well or by themselves, such as with a disabled beneficiary, a beneficiary who wastes money or has creditors, or perhaps is struggling with addiction.  Many parents leave assets to their children in trusts so that the assets are excluded from their child’s potential divorce.  Trusts can even be used for your pets!  We have many blog posts on different reasons to use a trust, and here are a few:  https://www.galliganmanning.com/special-estate-planning-considerations-for-a-blended-family/ (blended families)  https://www.galliganmanning.com/do-you-need-a-pet-trust-in-your-estate-plan/ (pets) https://www.galliganmanning.com/some-common-estate-planning-mistakes-best-avoided/.    

If you are considering using a trust as part of your estate planning, you have to consider whether it will be revocable or irrevocable.  I’ll briefly describe both varieties.

Revocable Trusts are trusts that can be changed. They are often called Living Trusts.  This form of trust is typically used to avoid probate because assets properly owned or directed to the trust will not be probate assets.  Because of its flexibility, you can change beneficiaries, terminate it, or leave it as is. You have options, and it can change with you as your needs, wishes and plan change over time.  Once you die, the revocable trust becomes irrevocable and distributions and assets shift to the beneficiaries in the manner you chose. 

A revocable trust avoids probate for the assets it directs, but will be counted as part of your “estate” for estate tax purposes. They are includable in your estate, because you maintain control over them during your lifetime.  Under current law, very few people have an estate large enough to pay federal estate taxes, so having assets as part of your “estate” for estate tax purposes is actually a good thing.

Revocable Trusts are also used to help manage assets as you age, help you maintain control of assets if you don’t believe the trustees are ready to manage the funds, or to appoint other trustees in case you can no longer manage the assets yourself.

Irrevocable Trusts are called irrevocable because in theory you cannot change or revoke them.  However, most states have laws which permit revocation or change of irrevocable trusts in certain circumstances.  But, you should be careful about irrevocable trusts if you expect a need to change it in the future.

If estate taxes are a concern, it’s likely you’ll consider this type of trust. The assets are given to the trust, thus removing them from your taxable estate.  Irrevocable trusts of this type are less common than revocable trusts, but still can be a powerful weapon in your estate planning arsenal. 

These are just two of many different types of trusts. There are trusts set up for distributions to pay college expenses, providing for disabled individuals to preserve government benefits, charitable funds for philanthropic purposes, planning for pets after you are gone, leaving assets to a second spouse or children in a blended family and more.

Your estate planning attorney will be able to identify which types are most appropriate for your situation.  Here’s how to prepare for your meeting with an estate planning attorney when considering a trust:

Why do you want the Trust? Consider your goal.  Is it to avoid probate?  Is it for tax planning?  Is it because you know a beneficiary shouldn’t receive the assets but you still want to provide for them?

List beneficiaries. Include primary beneficiaries and have a plan for what happens when the primary beneficiary is deceased.

Map out the specifics. Who do you want to receive the assets? How much do you want to leave them? Why shouldn’t receive the assets immediately?  You should be as detailed as possible.

Choose a trustee. You’ll need to name someone who will respect your wishes, who understands your financial situation and who will be able to stand up to any beneficiaries who might not like how you’ve structured your plan. It can be a professional trustee as well.

Don’t forget to fund the it! This last step is very important. The trust does no good if it is not properly funded. You should speak with your estate planning attorney about how to fund the trust based upon the plan you selected.

Creating a trust can be a complex task. However, with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney, this strategy can yield a lifetime of benefits for you and your loved ones.

Reference: The Street (July 22, 2019) “How to Set Up a Trust Fund: What You Need to Know”

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Special Estate Planning Considerations for a Blended Family

Blended families create special estate planning issues.
It is important to address the special estate planning issues involved in a blended family situation.

There are a number of special estate planning considerations that affect those in a blended family. Remarriages are on the rise. According to the article “Estate planning documents for second marriages” from the Cleveland Jewish News, half of previously married seniors have married again.  And the issues are compounded if each spouse has one or more children from a previoius marriage.

We’ve all heard the horror stories of what happens when there is inadequate or no estate planning done to address these issues. Take, for example, a couple each of whom had children at the time of their marriage. Twenty years after the marriage, the husband dies. He had wanted to provide for his second wife, so his will stated that all his assets went to his wife. He may have assumed that anything left would go back to his children after her death, but nothing was put in place to make that happen.

What actually occurred was that his wife lived a long time after he passed, and she simply combined their assets. When she died, her will left all of the assets to her children, and her husband’s children received nothing. The husband’s children didn’t believe that he meant to do that, but because of the lack of planning, that’s exactly what happened.

What were the alternatives? He could have set up a marital trust to hold the assets for his second wife on his death, but upon the wife’s passing, would have gone back to his children. He could have named his wife as trustee to control the trust assets, or, if he wanted extra insurance that the assets remaining at his wife’s death would pass to his children, he could name an independent person or a trust company as trustee to oversee the trust.

Another horror story involves the couple in a second marriage who do not have wills or any other estate plan. Absent a will stating otherwise, Texas law provides that, if the surviving spouse is not the parent of all of the deceased spouse’s children,  a deceased spouse’s share of community property goes to the deceased spouse’s children. As a result, many surviving spouses are shocked go find out that they own their home and other property acquired during the marriage with their step children.

Anyone involved in a second marriage, especially if they have children from a previous marriage, needs to review their estate planning to make sure that their wishes will be carried out and not left to chance or the dictates of Texas law. Not only should they review their wills, but also insurance policies and retirement accounts to make sure that their beneficiary designations say what they want. For more information on what to consider if you are in a blended family situation see https://www.galliganmanning.com/life-stages/blended-families/

There’s no “set it and forget” plan for estate documents, so before you walk down the aisle a second time, or shortly after you do so, speak with an estate planning attorney to clarify your goals and put them into the appropriate estate planning documents.

Reference: Cleveland Jewish News (May 7, 2019) “Estate planning documents for second marriages”

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