Top 3 Estate Planning Traps for Blended Families

Wills and estate planning become much more complex if you are in a blended family situation, or if you are going through a divorce or separation.  In this post, “blended family” is used to describe a family consisting of a couple and their children from this relationship and all previous relationships.

Child and Spousal Support

If you are paying child support, this should be acknowledged and addressed in your Will. Generally, amounts to cover your child support obligations should be carved out of your estate by a testamentary trust or by way of a life insurance policy. If you do not leave sufficient amounts to your children, they may sue your estate.

Your spousal support obligations may cease at the time of your passing, although this may not be true of the divorce/settlement agreement or divorce judgment provides otherwise. Your obligations after your death can also depend on whether you and your former partner were common-law (i.e., adult interdependent partners) or married.

Guardianship and Access Considerations

Normally if your child’s other parent (e.g., your former partner) survives you, he or she will become the Guardian of your child. However, your current spouse (i.e., the step-parent) will likely to continue a relationship with the child. You Will can express your desire that your current spouse have access to you child after your passing.

Enduring Powers of Attorney and Personal Directives

The spouse is appointed as the Attorney or Agent under the Enduring Power of Attorney or Personal Directive. In a blended family situation, the issue of choosing your Attorney or Agent can be much more complicated. Should you appoint your second spouse? Perhaps a child from the first marriage? Or a child from the first marriage together with a child from the second marriage?

There are several issues to be considered and addressed. For example, you may want to include a provision in your Enduring Power of Attorney that requires an annual accounting by your Attorney to your children from the first marriage. If you have significantly more assets than your second spouse, you may wish to include directions in the Personal Directive about how long you are to remain living independently if you become incompetent, in an attempt to minimize allegations by your former spouse or children from the first marriage that you are being kept in your home to provide accommodation and payment of expenses for your second spouse.

Wills and estate planning for blended families can tricky. Speak with a professional who can help guide you through the various issues involved.