Palm Springs Law Blog

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

How to Prevent Inheritance Disputes in Blended Families

Life is fleeting, and none of us know what can happen tomorrow, but having discussions about passing away can be overwhelming and too tough to handle. Many people find them morbid, unable to handle the thought of losing their cherished family members and friends. However, if you pass away without putting your affairs in order, you could leave your loved ones in a terrible place. 

Not only will they have to go through a stressful probate process and potentially fight a range of claims against your estate, but they might end up turning against each other. That can be particularly heartbreaking in blended families, where stepchildren have very few rights, especially since a person’s spouse and biological children are generally the first to inherit. 

If you want to ensure that your final wishes prevent inheritance disputes and include your stepchildren, here are a few steps you should take:

Know the Law

First and foremost, you need to understand how inheritance works, as there are things you can and can’t do when it comes to estate planning. If you’re married, your estate is divided into community property and separate property.

Community property automatically goes to your surviving spouse, meaning you cannot leave it to other heirs without the consent and participation of your spouse. If you have separate property, such as assets you owned before marriage or an inheritance left to you during marriage, you can split it up however you like. Failing to leave a legal document like a will or trust detailing your wishes means the separate property will be split between a surviving spouse and surviving biological children.

Without a surviving spouse or biological children, the next people in line to inherit your estate would be the surviving parents, siblings, and then children of these potential heirs (grandchildren, nieces/nephews, etc.). Stepchildren could have some rights to inheritance if there’s no surviving spouse or biological children, but there are caveats to that within California law.

Put Your Plan on Paper

The best way to prevent inheritance disputes is with an iron-clad estate plan. There are several options to explore when it comes to end-of-life planning, including a Last Will and Testament, as well as different types of trusts, among others. These legal documents allow you to select beneficiaries and direct how your assets are distributed. In the case of some trust structures, you may also avoid probate, prevent claims against your estate, and even reduce taxation.

Trusts are not subject to probate because the assets are no longer part of your estate. They’re also difficult to successfully challenge, especially if you have a no-contest clause in place, which states that any beneficiaries who attempt to contest the trust forfeit the gift(s) you leave them.

Irrevocable trusts are particularly advantageous because you give up ownership of the stated assets during your lifetime. They are then held in trust for your named beneficiary and turned over to them upon your passing.

Speak With Loved Ones About Your Final Wishes

While your estate plan will make your final wishes clear, it may not entirely stop disputes from occurring in the wake of your death, especially if some family members feel unfairly represented. Therefore, it’s important to speak with your loved ones about your wishes in advance to ensure they understand why you’ve made certain choices.

Start Planning Now

Most people don’t go through life thinking they might not be around the next day, and as such, they likely do not feel a sense of urgency when it comes to end-of-life planning. However, if you want to see to it that your loved ones are cared for in your absence and also do what you can to prevent potential inheritance disputes, now is the time to get your estate plan underway.

The capable and experienced professionals at Heritage Legal, PC, are on hand to help Palm Springs, CA, residents with their estate planning needs. Contact us today to schedule your complimentary consultation and get started.

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