Divorce, remarriage, stepchildren, half siblings, in-laws … these are all components of many of today’s modern families that can make estate planning a challenge. If you don’t proactively address the issue of who receives what when you die, your death could trigger as much greed as grief among family members.
Conventional wisdom has it that when one spouse passes away, assets transfer to the surviving spouse so that he or she may comfortably continue the couple’s lifestyle. However, we no longer live in a conventional world. According to The Stepfamily Foundation, half of all marriages end in divorce, and 75 percent of those spouses remarry. As a result, 50 percent of children in the U.S. live with one biological parent and that parent’s current partner.1
This can create long-term challenges for estate planning. While there are a wide range of strategies to address the transfer of assets among “blended families,” determining which ones work for individual families depends on a vast number of variables. For example, how old are the children when parents recouple?
This is important because younger stepparents may be more involved in the financial support and upbringing of their stepchildren — and thus may be more bonded with them. On the other hand, remarriage among older couples may not yield the same relationship with their new spouse’s children if they were grown and out of the house before the couple got together. In this scenario, why would you want part of your estate to go to children you barely know?
These are important distinctions because one spouse may want his or her own children to receive their assets once both spouses pass away, as opposed to having them split between children and stepchildren. Worse yet, if the surviving spouse remarries and then dies, those household assets may then be passed on to the new spouse and his or her children
— completely bypassing the first-to-die spouse’s children.
Without careful estate planning, these can be common scenarios. Parents who remarry should proactively strategize and deploy sophisticated planning tools to help ensure their assets are passed to chosen heirs upon their death.