When the Brady Bunch debuted on television in 1969, blended families were the exception to the rule. These days, they’re much more common. In fact, more than half of U.S. families are remarried or recoupled, and about 16 percent of kids today are growing up in a blended family. These families have challenges and joys just like any other family, but it can get complicated when one spouse dies.
Why is it more complicated? In many cases, a surviving spouse will disinherit the stepchildren. It’s not always intentional and sometimes the result of stepparents and their stepchildren growing apart after the parent’s death. It’s not necessarily the result of bad feelings or ill will; it’s just something that can happen if steps aren’t taken to protect the family’s assets. If you want to make sure there’s no disconnect between what you intend for your children and what your spouse actually does, we have some suggestions.
- Understand that a simple will is probably not enough. It might feel romantic to leave everything to your spouse, but realistically it could mean that your children are cut out of your estate in the long run.
- Consider a trust. With a trust, you can leave your assets to your spouse for their lifetime but designate that the balance will pass to your children after your spouse’s death. By doing this, you can provide for your spouse while protecting your children’s inheritance.
- Choose the right trustee. An experienced trustee will be able to act as a referee between your spouse and your children, making competent financial decisions about your assets after you’re gone.
- Acknowledge that your spouse could remarry. This is another great reason to put your assets in a trust to protect them for your children if your spouse remarries.
- Consider leaving assets to your children directly. That way, they’ll have their inheritance before your spouse dies.
- Make good decisions about your health care proxy. You can probably only name one person to make your health care decisions, so consider carefully whether it will be your spouse or one of your children. You’ll want to choose someone who won’t cut the other party out of information and access if you’re incapacitated.