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In today’s day and age, blended families are on the rise. While they are generally good news for both the parties involved (as well as their children, if there are any), they come with some unique changes and challenges, especially on the legal and financial front. In the case of estate planning, for instance, things can get tight in case the wishes of spouses clash with each other – say, a well-to-do man with 2 children married a relatively wealthy woman with 1 child, the man may want the joint estate to be split equally between the 3 children, whereas the woman may want to each parent to address their child’s inheritance on their own. While the couple should have discussed these matters before marriage, they rarely tend to think what they must do with their wealth once they pass away.

Not only are such kinds of frictions bad, they can have people holding grudges for years, if not decades. The best way to avoid this is to make a solid estate plan for blended families that will honor everyone’s wishes and help divide property equally after the death of the parents.

Here are some tips on how you can successfully work on estate planning for blended families:

Tip #1: Make a disposition of remains – A disposition of remains is a legal document that appoints one individual to make crucial decisions, such as burial. This can be very useful when there is a conflict of opinion between the deceased parent’s children from their first marriage and the surviving partner. In case the deceased has not signed said document before his/her death, the surviving spouse will have complete control over all decisions, and the children will have absolutely no say in any matter whatsoever.

Tip #2: Make sure to spell out the terms of property distribution after your death – Spelling out the terms of how property is supposed to be distributed after your death will help clear the air on how financial matters would be handled, and would help make an atmosphere that is fair for both your surviving spouse (and their children), as well as your children from your previous marriage. Failing to do so will cause your spouse to receive all joint assets, along with total and complete rights to do whatever he or she would like to do with said assets. Such situation can turn out to be slippery, as the surviving spouse may have a greater desire to favor his or her own children.

Tip #3: Use irrevocable trusts – If you are both sincere about sharing your resources equally among your children regardless of their origin, irrevocable trusts are a great way to legally cement your wished and justifications. To do this successfully, you can do either of the following:

  • Buy life insurance and name the biological children of the first spouse passing away as the beneficiaries.
  • Have the assets entered in a trust upon the death of the first spouse and appoint an independent and impartial trustee who will control how said assets will be distributed. This will prevent the surviving spouse from emptying the trust on their own will.
  • Upon their death of the first spouse, give the assets to their biological children, to the stepparent’s detriment.

Tip #4: Discuss the extent of information that children should have upon their biological parent’s death – With matters as sensitive as estate planning, it is important for biological children to not feel that they are being kept out of the loop in any way. For instance, if the biological parent has assets (which the biological children did not know about), and if said assets were passed on to the stepparent, this would make the biological children feel that they were keep in the dark the whole time, which in turn would create a big rift in the fabric of the family.