Estate planning tips for blended families

Careful estate planning may help people prevent inheritance disputes between their new spouses and their children from prior marriages upon their passing.

It is fairly common for people in Pennsylvania to remarry after a divorce, and often, one or both spouses may have children from a previous relationship. While these blended families offer people new opportunities to love and live, they can pose some challenging estate planning and inheritance issues. Therefore, having a carefully thought out estate plan that takes into account their new spouses' needs, as well as those of their children's, may help people prevent family disputes following their deaths.

Review beneficiary designations

The way people list their beneficiaries on retirement accounts, life insurance policies and other such accounts will affect how these benefits are disbursed upon their deaths. For example, it is common for people to update their beneficiary designations to their new spouses upon getting remarried. However, if they name only their new spouses, then they are able to specify their own new beneficiaries. This means that the original policy holders' children may be bypassed altogether.

As such, people should make their intentions clear when designating their beneficiaries. They may name who the accounts should pass to after their spouses' deaths or indicate specific percentages that each of their beneficiaries should receive.

Designate specific property separately

People often have family heirlooms or cherished personal property that they intend to pass on to certain children. Without a carefully designed plan, however, AARP points out that their new spouses may be entitled to claim up to half of the assets in people's wills. Thus, it may be helpful if people leave a separate list of this property, sometimes referred to as a personal property memorandum. This list should describe each item to be gifted in detail and provide specific instructions as to who should receive each item upon their passing.

Consider inheritance timing

For couples who have not previously been married, inheritance timing is somewhat easy. People often leave their assets to their spouses, and their estates are passed on to their children after their spouses pass away. When it comes to second or subsequent marriages, however, withholding distributions of their children's inheritances until after the death of their new spouses may create hostility and impatience. Therefore, people may consider establishing trusts or outright transfers that occur at the time of their deaths in order to accommodate the needs of both their surviving spouses and their children.

Working with an attorney

In the ideal situation, people in Pennsylvania could rely on their spouses and their children to work out inheritances to all their benefit after they pass away. However, even in long-term second marriages, new spouses and children from prior marriages may have drastically different ideas of what they are entitled to. As such, it will benefit people who have remarried or who are planning to get remarried to seek legal guidance. An attorney can explain their rights, including establishing wills and trusts, and help them set up a plan that provides for the needs of both their current spouses and their children from prior marriages.