What Happens When a Blended Family Doesn't Have an Estate Plan?

With divorce rates approaching 50%, many families consist of second or subsequent marriages and blended families. When blended families are involved, there are special estate planning considerations that must be addressed.

It is important for blended families to understand the impact of failing to have an estate plan.

Blended Families with No Estate Plan

Under Virginia law, if your spouse has children from a previous relationship and he or she dies without a will, you receive one-third of the estate and his or her children receive two-thirds of the estate.

This is often a surprise to Virginia families who may believe that the current spouse should receive everything that his or her spouse leaves behind.

Blended Families and Wills

To avoid the default rule mentioned above, wills for blended families can be drafted. Typical wills for blended families may give all of the property to the surviving spouse. Another option is to designate certain property to the spouse and other property to the children.

However, once one spouse dies, the surviving spouse is free to then go and change his or her will, and can effectively cut out the decedent spouse’s children from a prior relationship. Therefore, you may want to consider other options than leaving everything to your spouse and then expecting him or her to subsequently divide property with your children.

We, at Golightly Mulligan & Morgan, can provide clients with an estate planning agreement, to lock in the estate plan and to prevent the surviving spouse from changing the plan after the first spouse passes.

Trusts for Blended Families

An alternative to wills for blended families is a trust. A trust is a legal document that sets out specific instructions regarding how you want your property managed.

You can choose to manage the property that you deposit into the trust during your lifetime and name someone whom you want to manage the property after your passing. This way, you can ensure that your surviving spouse can benefit from all assets in the estate for the rest of their lifetime, and also that at your surviving spouse’s death, the remainder will pass to who you want.

A trust provides greater flexibility for individuals because trust funds or property can be used as the trustee sees fit, such as for the beneficiary’s health, education, maintenance, and support. It will also give the grantor (spouse that made the trust) peace of mind to know that after their death, their spouse will be taken care of, and that their spouse will not be able to cut out their children from a prior relationship.

Beneficiary Designations

Blended families may benefit from beneficiary designations.  If a spouse, with a child or children from a prior relationship wants to leave everything to their current spouse, but also wants to ensure that their child(ren) from the prior relationship are taken care of, they can choose to name the child(ren) as the beneficiaries on a life insurance policy or a qualified retirement account, and leave everything else to their current spouse.

Contact an Estate Planning Lawyer

At Golightly Mulligan & Morgan, we carefully listen to our clients’ wishes and guide them through the relevant state laws that may impact them. We build a customized estate plan that clearly communicates their wishes and achieves their objectives.

Estate Planning for Blended Families

Today’s typical family consists of some version of a blended family. Due to divorce or loss of a spouse, many individuals have children from a prior marriage that they consider as part of their estate plan. Estate planning for blended families requires a thoughtful approach that includes the needs of all members of the family.

Blended Families and Wills

Couples may be surprised when they think through what may happen when they pass. Many spouses provide an “I love you” will to their spouse in which they give everything they own to their spouse.

However, if they do this, the surviving spouse will get everything. He or she will be the legal owner of the property. The surviving spouse has no obligation to provide for the deceased spouse’s children from a previous relationship without some additional planning. This means those children can wind up disinherited. If you want your children to receive something upon your passing, you need more than an “I love you” will.

Typical wills for blended families may include specific provisions regarding what type of property will pass to the children of a previous marriage. These specific designations can help avoid confusion.

Wills for blended families often contain a no-contest clause. This clause is designed to prevent beneficiaries from arguing over the share left in the will and from expensive litigation. It declares that if a child or spouse challenges the provisions of the will, that person will forfeit his or her share.

Blended Families and Trusts

One effective blended family estate planning tool is to incorporate a trust. Trusts are legal documents in which one can designate how certain property will be treated during their lifetime and after their death. You may specify that trust funds be used to pay for your health and welfare during your life, then the same for your spouse, and then the same for your children.

Alternatively, you may provide for periodic distributions to your children or for distributions at certain ages.

Trusts provide greater flexibility because they allow you to manage assets and income that generates from them, according to your specific instructions. Some types of trusts that you may discuss with your estate planning attorney include:

Golightly Mulligan & Morgan makes estate planning understandable and approachable. We can work with you to ensure your loved ones and property are protected.