A blended family or nontraditional family is a family in which one or both of the adults have children from a previous marriage or relationship. In case you’re thinking “I didn’t have an estate plan for my first marriage –why would I need one for the second one?” you may be overlooking the” details” of your children or grandchildren or unfamiliar with how best to take care of your second spouse or partner! If you have children from a previous marriage, you may want to determine how your second spouse or partner and your kids will divide your estate. Longevity (incapacity) planning looks at how the decision-making responsibilities will be shared among the family members or loved ones involved. Both the estate and longevity planning will depend on your age and circumstances, as well as how old your kids are, and you may consider whether there are educational expenses or grandkids you want to provide for, and so on. This is an especially important discussion to have with your second spouse or partner so that the concerns, goals and techniques are clear going forward. A blended family situation is more likely to be driven by different estate planning goals for husband and wife or life partners, than in a marriage or partnership the first time around – when a couple may be younger and share more common goals and there is typically only one set of children.
This estate planning, like all others, starts with a discussion. So – what are some of the benefits of blended families estate planning?
- helps identify goals of each spouse or partner – who they want to support and for what purposes;
- can bring clarity for who provides what kind of support for whom;
- takes into account any pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreements (these are known as “marital agreements” under Colorado law);
- sheds light on financial and medical concerns and authority to make decisions in the event of incapacity or death.
If you are concerned about any of these issues and want to avoid a conflict-laden situation where your surviving spouse or partner may be at odds with your kids or other family members, it is worth looking into making a plan. A comprehensive estate plan will take into account your probate and nonprobate assets, the beneficiaries, and will also provide powers of attorney to provide for your welfare during short or long term disability or incapacity. Read the CBA Estate Planning brochure
If you are looking to the future together and are realistic, making an estate plan can help cement expectations. I liked this Ehow article on “How to Blend A Family,” and no, it doesn’t involve a small kitchen appliance!
The term “blended families” doesn’t just apply to married couples – it can apply to unmarried couples as well, including a man and woman who could decide to marry each other if they chose to at a future date, or a same sex couple whose partnership may not be recognized as a marriage. In Colorado, unmarried persons have the option of giving certain rights to another unmarried person through a Designated Beneficiaries Agreement. Find general information about Colorado Designated Beneficiaries Law here.
This agreement can provide benefits to the survivor of the two parties to a DBA, but does not provide disposition of property or confer rights for the second to die. More information in my article here.
Okay, you may be interested in looking into this further, but maybe you don’t yet have a clear picture of what could happen if you (1) do nothing or (2) make assumptions without consulting the spouse or partner. What are some things that could go wrong?
- old wills and other plans are still in place that do not reflect current goals and concerns;
- if you have minor children, outright gifts to them may be controlled by your former spouse;
- picking a personal representative, guardian, trustee or co-trustee or other key people who do not get along with each other;
- making your kids wait until the death of your surviving spouse or partner to inherit anything, which can fuel resentment;
- failing to update beneficiary designations on nonprobate assets like retirement accounts, pay on death accounts, etc. (these are not automatically changed as a result of divorce);
- leaving everything to the surviving spouse or partner and assuming that he or she will “take care of” your kids; and
- [this one is not unique to blended families] leaving large amounts of money or property outright to someone who is not prepared to handle it – a/k/a the lottery effect.
If you are part of a blended family and haven’t discussed with your spouse or partner what your wishes are, you may want to start that initial conversation – the first step to making plans.