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The Impact of Blended Families on Estate Planning and Litigation

Published January 11, 2021

Comprehensive estate planning is essential for every adult. Your plan should address the needs of all your loved ones at your death, regardless of whether you are single, married or divorced. It is crucial however, to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney if you belong to a blended family. A blended family is one where the parents have children from previous relationships, but they have combined to form a new family. Blended families, also called step families or reconstituted families, can be created whether the new partners legally marry or remain as unmarried, committed partners.  The family structure and legal relationships within blended families introduce a layer of complexity that makes planning for your loved ones’ futures more crucial than ever.

Multi-generation family portrait on a bridge in a forest

Proper estate planning for blended families can help avoid a myriad of problems both while the client is living and after they have died.  In the absence of a documented, properly executed estate plan, a married couple with children from separate relationships will have their assets divided by the laws of the state in which they were domiciled. This will likely be in contradiction with the intent to provide for children of previous relationships as spouses are commonly favored under intestacy laws. Therefore, it is critical to create an estate plan that clearly details how your assets pass at the death of each parent to ensure that provisions for children and spouses accurately reflect your wishes.

The proper estate plan will clearly detail your wishes for the disposition of your assets at death, but it should also include several documents which evidence your intent for the management of your assets and health care during your lifetime. Your estate plan should include updated and carefully drafted advanced directives, including a Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, and Designation of Guardian. These documents will provide valuable direction for your loved ones should you become incapacitated and unable to manage for yourself. A client will want to carefully consider how to best appoint their current spouse and children under the advanced directives. Plans which include both the spouse and children can help assure that all parties are included in decision making, to the extent possible.

At Littman Krooks we specialize in estate planning for blended families and regularly assist couples by creating estate plans that consider the added variables within the blended family context. Our firm also houses a robust litigation department where we address legal actions brought during a client’s lifetime (ie: Guardianships) and after death (ie: Surrogate’s Court litigation). Unfortunately, litigation arising within the blended family structure is common and comprises much of our litigation practice. With proper planning expensive lawsuits and emotionally trying circumstances can be avoided. If the proper planning was not completed, and litigation is necessary, our staff is available to assist in assuring the best possible outcome to all parties involved. Watch a replay of our conference on Important Considerations for Blended Families or Contact us here. 

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