Many families here in wonderful Idaho fall under the term “Blended Family” that typically means the adults have children from a previous relationship and have come together to form one, bigger, happy family.
As someone who came from a blended family, I know first hand the rewards and challenges of bringing two families together. One challenge that many people don’t think about, or even know that it is a potential problem, involves estate planning with a blended family.
I’m about to oversimplify and overgeneralize here, so bear with me. Without an estate plan, or with a Will, typically what happens is that the surviving spouse receives all of the couple’s assets. Most people are expecting this to happen anyway and they do not have a quandary with this distribution. However, if the deceased spouse, let’s say the father, has children from a previous relationship, the father generally wants his children to receive an inheritance when the mother passes away. Seems reasonable.
Problem. Once husband give assets away via a Will, or without an estate plan, those assets belong 100% to the wife.
Now is a good time to remind you that you have ABSOLUTELY no requirement to give an inheritance to anyone, let alone a child of a deceased spouse. You may trust your spouse to give your kids an inheritance when your spouse passes away, but many factors can happen between your death and theirs, ie relationship ends when kids become adults and move out, (or as one client put it, evil step-parent uses inheritance as a weapon against the kids) spouse gets remarried, potentially has more kids with new spouse, and all of the sudden your children are an afterthought.
The simple answer is to create a Trust. Otherwise, all of the above options are available.
The way to ensure your kids get an inheritance AND your surviving spouse is not financially cut off, is to put language in your trust that states during your lifetime the trust is revocable, amendable, or terminable. But, assuming you did not terminate it, upon your death, your trust becomes irrevocable. Essentially this means that no one can legally change the distribution provisions in your trust. So, your spouse has the right to use the assets while he or she is alive, but when death occurs, the remaining assets are delivered to your children. Win-win.