ESTATE PLANNING FOR THE BLENDED FAMILY

by: Kevin G. Harvey December 2013

John and Diane married when they were in their early fifties. This was the second marriage for both of them, and they each had two children from their first marriages. John and Diane occasionally talked about the need to get their estate plan created, but they never made it a priority.

Shortly after Diane turned 68, she was diagnosed with dementia. John wanted to keep taking care of her at home, and he did so for a while. But when the dementia became severe, Diane's children began pressuring John to move her into a long term care facility. Although John had always gotten along with Diane's children to this point, he now found himself at odds with their wishes for their mother's care.

John eventually made an appointment with an attorney to discuss estate planning and advance directives, and took Diane to the appointment. After meeting with John and Diane, the attorney advised John that, due to doctor's opinions about the progression of Diane's dementia, Diane was no longer competent to sign legal documents. Unfortunately, John and Diane's procrastination in completing their estate plan had now cost them the opportunity to thoughtfully craft a plan together that would have addressed the situation that John essentially now faced alone.

Regrettably, scenarios similar to the one described above occur all too often. When the married couple in a blended family fails to engage in estate planning, the results can be particularly problematic. The failing health of a parent in a blended family often creates stress between the step-parent and step-children about utilization of the parent's financial resources and medical care choices for the parent. This stress only increases in the absence of estate planning by the parent and step-parent.

Often parents in a blended family have desires to provide for their mutual financial support, to provide for the financial support of the surviving spouse, and to also ensure that a deceased spouse's children do receive an inheritance. Spouses in a blended family usually desire to care for each other in the event of disability, and they desire for the wishes of their children to be secondary to the decisions made by a spouse. These objectives can all be accomplished, but usually only with more complex advance directives and estate planning than for a couple in a non-blended family.

In situations where the children in a blended family are still minors, the planning complexity remains. How much of a deceased parent's resources will be secured for the support of the minor children and how much will be left for the financial support of the surviving spouse?

Perhaps it is the added complexity in the blended family context that tends to deter the parents from seeking assistance in creating an estate plan. But procrastination does not solve problems in this context: it only leaves the non-planners more vulnerable to results that are inconsistent with what they would have wanted had they expressed their desires in a well-crafted estate plan.

If you are part of a blended family, there is no better time than now to begin having thoughtful discussions with your spouse about your long term financial goals, your estate planning objectives, and your preferences for care in the event of disability. Our attorneys regularly assist couples in blended families by designing and creating estate plans that take into account the added variables within the blended family context. In fact, a married couple with a blended family may need legal guidance very early in the planning process simply to become informed of the options available to meet all of their objectives. Call (317) 462-3455 now and make an appointment to meet with one of our estate planning attorneys.