Estate planning alone is already complicated enough but when considering estate planning for the modern blended family the problem becomes critical as both children from a previous marriage and current spouses must be protected.
Very often, blended families involve a marriage in which one or both spouses have children from a prior relationship. The couple could also have children in common but that is not always the case. The term “blended family” can mean so many things that the standard estate planning documents may not be enough to satisfy the planning goals of these families.
Firstly, families should be open about the estate planning process, appoint trustees, and set up trusts to avoid problems. Assessing the types of problems that can occur when it comes to estate planning for the modern blended family will be the first step in determining the right process to follow for your own future.
To do so, there is nothing better than having an experienced NY estate planning attorney by your side. At Ortiz & Ortiz we have been helping families with estate planning matters for over 30 years. We serve clients in the 5 boroughs of New York. Whether you’re in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, or Staten Island, don’t hesitate to talk to us about your case.
Problems faced by the modern blended family in estate planning matters in New York
When it comes to blended families, estate planning can be difficult because everybody might not be on the same page.
For blended families compared to more traditional families:
- Financial problems are more complex;
- The emotional problems involved in making decisions will be much more intense. Especially when dealing with the competing interests of your own children, stepchildren and your new spouse.
All of a sudden people who are not blood-related are related and may all be the ultimate beneficiaries. This certainly poses a set of challenges as everyone may have their own expectations, agendas and wishes.
Another thing to consider is that an adult may want to care for their surviving spouse and the children of the former spouse when they die. In this regard, it is important to contemplate estate planning considerations after remarrying as it is easy to miss critical points that could leave your new spouse or children from your first marriage at a disadvantage.
If estate planning for the blended family is not done right there is potential for children to be disinherited. There could also be disputes over division of authority or responsibility and assets may not be protected from ex-spouses.
Therefore, to avoid conflicts it is important to consider estate planning strategies for the modern blended family. Let’s look at some of these below and also at some key points to think about.
Consider a fair share
It is the duty of the spouses to determine what will be fair to the children and stepchildren when dealing with estate planning for blended families. The mediation of a competent and professional estate planning attorney such as Norma E. Ortiz, the principal of Ortiz & Ortiz, can help bring clarity to a difficult matter.
Postnuptial and prenuptial agreements
With a prenuptial agreement each partner must disclose what their assets and their financial liabilities are. The agreement spells out how the couple will contribute to their living expenses after marriage and how assets acquired during the marriage will be treated and divided in the event of divorce. Additionally, what each other will inherit when a spouse dies will be stated.
Any applicable terms of your divorce should be reflected in your estate plan. For example, making sure that your children are sufficiently provided for following your death or including statements to provide to your former spouse.
In case you did not enter into a prenuptial agreement, a postnuptial agreement is still an option.
A more than welcome appropriate estate plan
As we will read later in the article, having estate planning documents is crucial if you do not want New York intestate law to determine the distribution of your assets.
If you already have children before entering into a blended family, any former spouses as well as children may inherit part of your estate.
Setting up a revocable trust
Those in a second marriage can leave their assets separated and set up their own revocable trusts.
After the first spouse passes away a trust could be established with the benefit of a surviving spouse to enable the surviving spouse to tap into income or even principle.
Usually married people leave everything to each other in their wills. In this case, if you die first, your spouse would be the sole owner of all your assets. The issue for blended families is that your wife or husband may decide in the future not to leave anything to your children from a previous relationship.
- One way to provide for your spouse without leaving out your children is to place all or part of your property and money in a trust that your spouse can use during their lifetime.
- Later, when your spouse dies, everything in the trust can pass to your children.
If you set up a trust for a young spouse, your children probably won’t get anything for many years, and unless your estate is really large, there may be nothing left by then. You may want to designate your children as beneficiaries of your retirement accounts or life insurance policies for immediate inheritance.
Note:To expand your knowledge on trusts, you can review our section on New York trust lawyers and specifically, the article dedicated to the revocable living trust in New York for further information on this matter. You can also directly contact our financial experts and book a private consultation so they can analyze your situation.
Retirement accounts and life Insurance
- With life insurance you could, for example, leave most of your assets and money to your spouse but support your children by taking out a life insurance policy that names them as beneficiaries.
- Retirement accounts like IRAs and 401(k)s and life insurance aren’t passed down through your will and instead go directly to the named primary beneficiary. Even when your will says otherwise.
If you are divorced remember to update your beneficiaries so your savings don’t end up in the hands of your ex. You can find more information on this topic in our article on estate planning after divorce.
Powers of attorney and living wills
In a complete estate plan, among other things, you definitely need the following:
- A Living will explaining your wishes if you become terminally ill;
- Healthcare power of attorney that appoints someone to make medical decisions on your behalf.
- A durable power of attorney naming someone to handle your financial affairs when you are unable to do so.
In many cases, people name their spouse but in blended families this could lead to arguments and hurt feelings over what dad or mom would have wanted. In any case, whether your family is blended or not is always a good idea to choose a level-headed person able to get along with other family members.
Note: Find out everything you need to know about the New York power of attorney on our blog.
Being open about the entire process
Don’t forget that estate planning or creating a trust behind the family’s back and without their knowledge will create a tense atmosphere. It is crucial that family gatherings are used to communicate and think about the common good. Stakeholders must be in contact with open, consistent and honest dialogues about reaching a common point of decision making.
In short, don’t forget to let everyone know about your wishes and plans in advance to prevent surprises.
While the main trustee is often the surviving spouse, there should be a backup trustee too. It is very important to choose well because the trustee can withdraw all of the principle that is inside of the trust and even by accident, potentially disinherit children.
You must choose a trustee and to avoid family conflicts, many experts recommend choosing a neutral trustee such as a bank.
Note: On our website you can read the difference between executor and trustee if you want to learn more.
What happens in New York if I do nothing?
If you do not make an estate plan, property and money that would normally be handed down through your will will be divided according to New York intestacy laws.
Therefore, you won’t have anything to say on how your property is split among your children and your spouse and likely, your stepchildren won’t inherit anything.
If your family looks like a modern & blended family you should seriously consider estate planning strategies for the modern blended family to provide for both your spouse and your children while minimizing the chances of stress and conflict when you are not here anymore.
Contact our New York law firm
When considering estate planning for the modern blended family you shouldn’t focus only on death. Financial planning should include a comprehensive review of assets and liabilities determining how to address the current financial situation as well as the future financial wishes.
With over 30 years of experience in estate planning matters, Ortiz & Ortiz is a progressive law firm that will work to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible and the outcome is favorable and fair for everyone involved.
At Ortiz & Ortiz we have been serving clients throughout Brooklyn, The Bronx, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island for more than three decades. Don’t hesitate to call us and let us know your case.