As common as divorce and re-marriage are across Ohio, it's no wonder that many of us are living in blended families. A household might consist of parents who are married for the second time and children from each of their first marriages. They might be living in a house that was owned by one of them with their ex, or they might have sold their first marital homes and bought a new house together. All of these factors can create complications when one of the parents passes away, even if it's many years later. These potential difficulties can be completely avoided, however, with an estate plan that understands the challenges faced by blended families.
Unintended Consequences of Outdated Estate Plans
If you don't have a will that says otherwise, your spouse will inherit everything when you die. This may be your intent, but it's important to remember that your children from your first marriage may never inherit from your estate. To understand why it's so important to create a new estate plan after a re-marriage, let's take a look at the kinds of problems we often see when couples don't have one.
- Natural children are disinherited. If your spouse gets everything when you die, what happens when he or she dies? Most likely, the house and other assets will go to their natural children, and your children will be completely left out.
- Inheritances are unequal. It is not unusual for one of the spouses in a re-marriage to bring significantly more assets to the partnership than the other. If both parents die, the assets will be split evenly among all of the children, regardless of what belonged to whom previously. If the spouse with more assets dies first, all of those assets could eventually pass to stepchildren rather than natural children.
- An old will surfaces. If you re-marry and never get rid of the will you had with your first spouse, there can be legal challenges during the probate process. The will might leave assets to your children, for example, but those assets may no longer exist. Also, if you are in a committed relationship but are not re-married, your partner would have no legal right to challenge your will if it still includes your first spouse.
As you can see, any number of problems can arise if you don't take the time to discuss your wishes with a qualified estate planning attorney when you re-marry.
How a Blended-Family Estate Plan Can Prevent Problems
Joining two families through a second marriage can create a lot of confusion and sometimes even chaos. But your wishes for your loved ones after you are gone should not get lost in the shuffle. You can't possibly guess what will happen in the future—who will die first, who will be left behind, and what assets you will have. But an experienced estate planning attorney knows how to create a plan with a will and revocable living trusts that cover all the bases. When you meet with the team at Littlejohn Law, we will discuss a range of options that will meet your goals, including:
- Making sure the surviving spouse is well cared for
- Guaranteeing that your natural children will inherit family heirlooms
- Ensuring a fair division of assets between the two (or more) families
- Encouraging adult children to not depend on a possible future inheritance
- Communicating the plan to all parties so that there are no surprises after your death
- Discouraging potential contests of the will in probate
- Avoiding probate for many of the assets
Whether you were recently re-married or have been married to your second spouse for many years, now is the time to talk to an estate planning attorney about protecting everyone you love—old and new family members alike.