Estate Planning for Blended Families

Estate planning for blended families is a crucial step that often presents unique challenges. Taking a proactive approach and working with a skilled attorney is essential, especially if you are in a blended family and need to update an estate plan created during a previous marriage. A proactive approach can help protect your assets and loved ones, giving you control over your financial future.

Attorney Christopher Heritage, a seasoned professional at Heritage Legal, PC, is well-versed in California estate law and highly skilled in assisting clients with blended families to develop comprehensive estate plans. His extensive experience and deep understanding of estate planning make him a reliable choice. He collaborates regularly with financial planners and other experts to ensure your assets are strategically managed for the benefit of multiple families. 

Why Is Estate Planning So Important for Blended Families

The term “blended family” refers to families in which people have remarried and have children from prior relationships. The number of blended families has continued to increase in the last few decades. It's essential for blended families to work with an attorney who understands the unique challenges they face when planning an estate. 

Estate planning in California can become complicated, especially when it involves children from previous marriages. Creating an estate plan allows parents in blended families to ensure every child is protected and receives a portion of the estate. Preparing an up-to-date estate plan can help your surviving loved ones avoid probate court, costly legal expenses, and unnecessary tension among blended family members.

The best way to begin the process of estate planning for your blended family is to discuss your goals with your partner or spouse. You'll both want to take time to consider how each child is accounted for, including siblings and step-siblings. You may benefit from naming an unbiased mediator to act as the executor of your estate to protect children from previous marriages from unfair treatment during the estate planning process.

What Happens When Blended Families Don’t Have an Estate Plan?

Many Americans do not have estate planning documents, such as a will or trust. Without estate planning, a person's assets could be unfairly distributed against their wishes after their death. When a person dies without an estate plan, their estate will be administered through California's probate courts. During the probate process, a court decides how the deceased person's assets will be distributed according to California's intestacy laws. Under California's intestacy laws, one or more children and a blended family may be denied inheriting from a parent.

For example, suppose you are divorced and have three children from a previous marriage. You remarry and have one child with your current spouse. If you die without an estate plan, half of your assets will be given to your current spouse and the biological child you've had with that spouse. Half of your assets will be given to your children from your previous marriage. The children from your previous marriage may not receive the same amount of assets as your child from your current marriage.

The Importance of Updating Beneficiary Designations

Beneficiary designations are an important part of estate planning. When a person marries for the second or third time, it can be easy to forget to update beneficiary designations. Suppose a woman was married for 20 years and then got divorced and remarried. The woman has several retirement accounts and a life insurance policy and designated her ex-husband as the sole beneficiary when they were married. 

If she forgets to update her beneficiary designations when she remarries to make her current husband the beneficiary, her ex-husband will receive all those assets. Usually, a last will and testament cannot overrule beneficiary designations. Working with an estate planning attorney can ensure you've covered all your bases to reflect your current estate planning wishes.

Avoiding Unnecessary Conflict By Creating a Blended Family Estate Plan

The death of a loved one is always emotional and can cause tension among surviving family members who are grieving. Additionally, the probate process can be expensive and lengthy. Without access to funds, it may be difficult for your surviving loved ones to pay for funeral expenses. If you own a business and don't have an estate plan, your business could suffer. 

Conflict between surviving family members can arise during the probate process, especially within blended families. For example, adult children from previous marriages may be left out of the probate process when there is not an up-to-date last will and testament or trust.  

When you work with an attorney to create an estate plan, your intentions will be clear, and your loved ones will be able to rest easier knowing that you've ensured your assets will be fairly distributed according to your wishes. Creating a blended estate plan can help prevent unnecessary conflict between members of a blended family, making it all the more crucial to have an updated estate plan. 

Ensuring Children from Previous Marriages Receive an Inheritance

A unique challenge of estate planning with a blended family involves protecting children from a previous marriage. Many married couples create “I love you”  wills in which they designate each other as the sole beneficiaries of each other's wills. If the couple has children from a previous marriage, an “I love you” will not ensure children from previous marriages receive assets from the parent's estate. 

When one spouse dies, the other spouse won't be legally required to share the inheritance with the deceased spouse's children from a previous marriage unless it is clearly stated in the will. An attorney can help you create an estate plan that ensures your children from a previous marriage won't be left out of an inheritance.

Contact a Blended Family Estate Planning Attorney in Palm Springs

Every blended family is unique and should have an estate plan that reflects their needs and goals. If you have questions about updating your estate plan to reflect your blended family, don't hesitate to contact attorney Christopher Heritage of Heritage Legal, PC, to schedule a case evaluation.

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