The modern American family looks much different today than it did two generations ago. In recent years, blended families—comprised of parents with biological children from previous relationships and marriages—have become more commonplace. According to some surveys, an estimated 50 percent of all family households could now be considered blended.
While most blended families live in happy harmony, their unique characteristics can lend to significant estate planning challenges.
The Importance of Estate Planning for Blended Families
Under most circumstances, Arkansas parents can protect their spouse and children from the uncertainties of intestate succession by writing a simple will.
However, conventional estate planning strategies often fail to meet the needs of blended families. This is because the Natural State’s succession laws tend to privilege close living relatives. If an inheritance is bequeathed solely to a surviving spouse, then the spouse’s share of the estate may pass on to their biological children—leaving the decedent’s children without an inheritance.
Even if you’re reasonably certain that your spouse would honor your wishes, complications can and often do arise if the surviving spouse doesn’t make additional legal arrangements, causing turmoil for blended families. Here are some reasons why.
Parent's Last Will and Testament Is Ambiguous
Ambiguous wills can have uncertain outcomes. While Arkansas state law presumes that most adults have the legal capacity to execute a will and make other estate planning decisions, a homemade or “do-it-yourself” will could contain minor oversights that create major complications.
Surviving Spouse Loses or Exhausts Inherited Assets
Parents often try to reach a consensus on estate planning decisions: even if they have yet to commit their legacy to paper, they may have an understanding regarding how assets should be distributed in the event of an unexpected death. For most married couples, naming a spouse as a sole beneficiary resolves any tension about making a more comprehensive estate plan.
However, even if you trust your spouse to make responsible decisions, assets can depreciate, and investments can collapse. If your partner ever falls into debt or requires intensive medical care, they may be forced to sell or reallocate your heirs’ intended inheritance. While the loss of some assets isn’t always avoidable, estate plans should consider contingencies that protect the interests of parents as well as their children.
An Heir Disagrees with Inheritance Decisions
Every estate, no matter its size, should include in-built protections against potential contests and challenges. If and when a contest can be anticipated, parents should ask their estate planning attorney to include specific clauses and language intended to curtail questions about an heir’s share of the estate.
How Blended Families Can Benefit from a Comprehensive Estate Plan
Here are some estate planning strategies that could potentially work for your blended family.
Far too many Americans believe that a last will and testament is designed solely to distribute assets upon the testator’s death. However, a will can also be used to designate a guardian for minor children. The nomination of a guardian is especially important for blended families. Without a designated guardian, the court may grant custody to an estranged parent or another biological relative.
Powers of attorney
Even close-knit and loving families can be torn apart in the aftermath of a catastrophe. They may struggle to reallocate assets to fund your care or disagree about the particular details of your medical treatment. Under Arkansas state law, adults have a legal right to curtail these disagreements by delegating specific powers of attorney to family, friends, and legal representatives.
Revocable living trusts
A revocable living trust is among the most powerful estate planning tools afforded to blended families. Since trust assets are owned by a discrete legal entity, they can be passed to beneficiaries outside of probate. Trust-based inheritances can also be conditioned, providing young heirs with an additional layer of financial protection and security.
Contact an Arkansas Estate Planning Attorney Today
Estate planning can be unusually difficult for blended families. However, Arkansas law affords them many of the same rights and privileges as traditional nuclear families. You don’t have to leave your legacy to chance. Please send Quraishi Law & Wealth a message online or call us at 870-275-4304 today to schedule your initial consultation.