Klenk Law

Estate Planning for Blended Families

Starting a new family with a new spouse can be challenging, but when you include children from a prior marriage the possibilities of conflict increase. If not addressed, conflicting goals and personalities can lead to problems. Estate Planning for the Blended Family is vital. Left ignored, the death or disability of one spouse can lead to family conflicts that never heal. Avoiding or diminishing these conflicts is possible. We are happy to walk you through your options in person, feel free to call us! Meanwhile, here is a short introduction to some typical estate issues that arise with the blended family.

Blended Family Estate Planning; Before the Wedding

Prenuptial Agreements: Marriage is about love, but it is also about business. If you are entering a marriage that includes children from a prior marriage, then a Prenuptial Agreement is a must. The state hands you a prenuptial agreement, or you are free to work out a deal that best fits your particular relationship. For more, please read our articles about Prenuptial Agreements.

Irrevocable Trusts: An Irrevocable Trust is an excellent tool to hold assets for your children, sheltered from their creditors and divorces. Forming and funding this trust before your wedding is an a great strategy to keep these assets from becoming entangled in your future marriage. This preemptive act helps protect these assets from your future creditors and if your marriage is unsuccessful, from your spouse. For more information, read our section about Irrevocable Trusts.

Revocable Trusts: A Revocable Trust can be a useful tool when you don’t wish to give up control over an asset, but you want to document that you entered the marriage with the asset and to separate these assets from your marital assets.

Estate Planning and the Blended Family; What If You Do Nothing?

Spousal Elective Share: If you have not addressed these rights in your Prenuptial Agreement, each state gives a spouse the right to claim a portion of their deceased spouse’s estate.

In Pennsylvania, a surviving spouse may exercise an Elective Share to one-third of the estate property. The Elective Share applies even if your Will excludes your spouse. Speak to an experienced Probate Attorney before electing to take the statutory share because, by taking the elective share, may forfeit rights to properties in any trust created by the decedent.

In New Jersey, unless waived in a Prenuptial Agreement, a surviving spouse is also entitled to an elective share of one-third of the estate property. To claim the spousal share, the surviving spouse must within six months file a complaint in the Superior Court. Speak with an experienced Probate Attorney before making this election. This is a complicated area of the law. An uninformed election could lead to unintended consequences.

Intestacy, Having No will at Death: If you have no plan, then your assets pass under the State’s plan. Also, without a Will, there are no protective trusts. Further, your spouse or your children may receive more than you intend. A Will allows you to craft a plan that reflects your true wishes. The Intestacy Rules do not take your wishes into consideration.

Blended Family Estate Planning; After the Wedding

Estate Planning: Marriage allows spouses to work as a team. Married couples may use estate planning methods to shelter assets for the surviving spouse. Further, a married couple can use their status to create protection for children that would not otherwise exist. Estate Planning can protect your surviving spouse, beneficiaries, and heirs; plan for illness or disability; preserve your estate; avoid probate; avoid disputes; making your will “Will Contest proof.” Let’s talk!

Will: Without a Will, the state decides where your assets pass at death. The State provides no protective trusts and disregards your wishes.

Living Will and Medical Power of Attorney: Avoid conflicts between your spouse and children by documenting who has the power to make medical decisions on your behalf if you have become incapacitated. Your Living Will and Medical Power of Attorney control who visits you when you are ill as well as who serves as your doctor; select a person who can negotiate your family politics.

Contracts To Will: Married couples can legally bind each other to follow a Will’s terms. Such as, the first spouse has a right to live in the family home, which then passes to the second spouse’s children. Read more about Contracts To Will in my article about Wills.

Revocable Trust: For married couples, a Revocable Living Trust has many purposes. To learn more, follow this link to Revocable Trusts in depth. But, they are especially useful for those in second marriages who wish to have children from the first marriage involved in overseeing their assets. A Revocable Trust allows you to keep your assets separate from your spouse’s, which can reduce disputes at the first spouse’s death. Further, while you retain the right to manage and spend your assets as you wish, you can allow your child the independent right to administer the trust.

Irrevocable Trust: An Irrevocable Trust is an excellent tool to protect assets from creditors while keeping assets separate from your second spouse’s assets. Further, they serve as irrevocable vessels to remove property from your estate that might otherwise cause a dispute between your spouse and children. Irrevocable Trusts address many different problems.

For more, read about these versatile tools:

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If you have any questions about Estate Planning for Blended Families or any other estate planning topics, please contact our office to schedule a free consultation with Peter Klenk. For more than two decades Klenk Law has focused only on Estate Law. We’ve seen it all, and this experience allows us to explain complex estate planning techniques clearly and concisely. We make it easy for you to understand estate planning so you can make the best decisions for yourself and your family.

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