Estate Planning for Blended Families
Blended Family Basics
Times have changed. In the new millennium, blended families now outnumber traditional nuclear families. In fact, one of three Americans is now a stepparent, a stepchild, a stepsibling, or some other member of a blended family*. And the number is likely to grow, based on current statistics and trends.
Fortunately, there are numerous organizations and support groups dedicated to helping blended families with these challenges. Unfortunately, little attention has been paid to the critical Life & Estate Planning challenges confronting blended families. These challenges include disinheriting your ex-spouse, providing for your new spouse and providing for your own children — and protecting their inheritance.
Without proper legal planning, your ex-spouse (as surviving parent/guardian) would likely be appointed by the probate court to manage the inheritance you leave to your children. To make matters worse, what if your children later predecease your ex-spouse, and are single and childless at that time? Who would inherit your assets then? That is right … your ex-spouse, as the next-of-kin of your children.
Your New Spouse
Chances are you made a few solemn promises to your new spouse on your wedding day. Among them were promises to be there through thick and thin, personally and financially. Accordingly, most spouses in blended families tend to blend their wealth, too.
Your Own Children
Whether children are reared in a traditional nuclear family or in a blended family, great care should be given to protect any inheritance both for them and from them. Wealth representing a lifetime of your hard work and thrift can be squandered in very short order, or can quickly vanish through divorces, lawsuits or bankruptcies.
Want to make your Life & Estate Plan heir tight? If so, you should consider a Discretionary Trust. As the name implies, such a trust makes distributions only in the sole and absolute discretion of the Trustee. The key to a successful Discretionary Trust is selecting and entrusting an appropriate Trustee with broad discretionary authority to protect your wealth for and from your heirs. The non-fiduciary position of Trust Protector can be created to appoint and even remove such a Trustee to ensure fulfillment of your objectives. As such, the Trust Protector serves as an ongoing Guardian Angel.
This has been a very cursory examination of a very complex subject. Be sure to engage appropriate legal counsel before you pursue any financial or legal strategy to overcome blended family challenges.
* Source: www.winningstepfamilies.com.
If your family is a blended family, one of your estate planning challenges is to make sure each member of your blended family is treated fairly and equitably. You will want to make consideration for your current spouse, your own children and perhaps even your stepchildren. And “fair and equitable” does not always result from a simple “equal shares” approach. Not to mention that some assets, such as a family or vacation home, are quite difficult to split into “equal shares.” In some cases, you may want to create a plan that actually increases your overall estate value, without increasing your estate value for estate tax purposes, and may allow you to equalize the inheritance among your family beneficiaries.
First Things First
Before continuing, however, you should know that your insurability for life insurance is the financial planning key to making this win-win inheritance arrangement work. It is an age-old financial planning maxim that your health actually buys your life insurance and your wealth merely pays the premiums. Assuming you are insurable, we now turn to the legal planning.
Your New Spouse
To provide financial security for your new spouse and to minimize your estate tax exposure, arrange for a tried-and-true Estate Tax Exemption Trust (ETE Trust) and a Qualified Terminable Interest Property Trust (QTIP Trust) to be created under either your Last Will and Testament or your Revocable Living Trust. Through this arrangement you may maximize your estate tax savings as you provide income and even principal to your new spouse for life. Thereafter, upon the death of your new spouse, the assets of both Trusts may pass to your own children
Your Own Children
Having taken care of your new spouse, we now shift our focus to providing a concurrent inheritance for your own children.
This publication does not constitute legal, accounting or other professional advice. Although it is intended to be accurate, neither the publisher nor any other party assumes liability for loss or damage due to reliance on this material.
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