Couples often bring children into a marriage from a prior marriage or union and then have more children together. This type of family is often referred to as a "blended family." Blended families highlight the need for careful estate planning to make sure the needs of each spouse are met, as well as the needs of each parent's children.
If one spouse is significantly younger, the age difference sometimes means that the older spouse's children are close in age to the younger spouse. This similarity in age between step-parent and step-children can be a source of tension. There can also be sibling rivalry between children of one parent and his or her step-children. These relationships can cause more than friction - sometimes outright hostility!
Most parents want to ensure that their assets will pass to their children and/or grandchildren, and maybe not their stepchildren. However, without careful estate planning, there is no guarantee that their children will inherit their assets. In fact, if the couple creates identical wills such that their assets pass to the survivor of them, there is a significant likelihood their own children will be disinherited.
Such unintended outcomes are likely because, in that scenario, all of the assets of the first spouse to die would pass to the surviving spouse to do with as he or she pleases. This scenario could result in the surviving spouse excluding his or her stepchildren, who then receive nothing.
Poor planning can lead to a race for survival between spouses. A will can be changed at any time; therefore, a surviving spouse could change his or her will after the death of the first spouse, leaving nothing for the first spouse's children.
Another common occurrence is for each spouse to name the other as a beneficiary on accounts or real estate. Doing so will not allow that asset to pass to anyone else, regardless of what the estate planning documents provide.
A trust, however, can allow a spouse/parent to "rule from the grave." At the death of the first spouse half of the trust assets can be locked down. With this type of planning, each spouse can have the assurance that their share of the trust assets (or one half) will pass to their children, grandchildren or any other person they wish. The remaining assets are used for the surviving spouse, and will then pass as that spouse wishes.
We help families of all types plan so that their savings, home, and other property passes the way they intend. This process involves getting to know you and your family and striving to achieve a complete understanding of each spouse's wishes.
If you have questions or need guidance in your planning or planning for a loved one, please do not hesitate to contact our Winthrop, Maine office by calling us at (207) 377-6966.