Estate Planning Essentials for Blended Families

With blended second marriages becoming increasingly common, it is not unusual for financial planners to be guiding their clients on the intricacies of estate planning for blended families.

Estate planning for the modern blended family can be challenging. Whereas a spouse may wish to leave an inheritance to their children from a first marriage, they will also feel a duty to leave a proportion of their estate to their new spouse, and of course any children from that second marriage.

Where there has been a second marriage, estate planning can raise complexities, and the decisions to be made can be difficult.

However, there are steps you can take to make sure you fairly provide for everyone who matters to you.

What is meant by a ‘blended family’?

When someone who was previously married and had children divorces and marries again, and goes on to have children with their new spouse, this is known as a ‘blended family’.

Estate planning for blended families can be complex, as it can be tough to decide how to divide the estate.

Further complications arise when both partners in the new marriage have children from a previous relationship. And in situations where the relationship split wasn’t necessarily amicable and certain family members have lost contact, it can be even more challenging.

What are the challenges of estate planning for the modern blended family?

Many children will assume that they will automatically inherit their parents’ assets.

However, when someone divorces, any will they had is automatically voided. The will has to be rewritten, and if there is a new relationship or second marriage, then there is every possibility that the bulk of the estate will be left to the new spouse.

Writing a will for a blended family therefore needs specialist legal and financial guidance so as not to unwittingly leave anyone out (formally known as ‘disinheriting’), or make errors that could have negative connotations in regard to Inheritance Tax.

Will writing and estate planning for blended families are also best carried out with open communication between all family members wherever possible.

How does ‘disinheritance’ work?

Disinheritance is common in blended families and it can happen in a number of ways.

Not making a will

Some spouses don’t make a will at all. This means that their estate will be completely or mostly inherited by the surviving spouse. In these cases, the children will usually inherit very little, if anything.

If there is no legal will present, intestacy laws apply. These rules dictate how an estate is divided, but as the rules were designed for the traditional family, there is very little provision for blended families. Neither is there any allowance for unmarried couples or unregistered marriages.

Not leaving a will makes things difficult enough for those left behind following a bereavement. But for blended families, the situation can be very difficult and usually leaves the children unhappy with the repercussions.

Leaving the surviving spouse to ‘do the right thing’

Often, a spouse will leave all of their estate to their partner, assuming that they will ‘do the right thing’ and make sure their children receive a fair proportion of the inheritance when the time comes.

However, the surviving spouse may remarry, and may lose contact with their deceased spouse’s family. This may result in them failing to make provision for their previous step family.

What is the best way to approach estate planning for blended families?

There are various ways in which a professional estate planner may guide blended families in making a will and providing for everyone who matters to them.

Trusts

There are certain trusts that can be used effectively for blended families.

A Life Interest Trust, for example, makes it possible for a beneficiary to register a lifetime interest in an asset. When that person’s interest ends, which could be when a marriage ends or the person dies, the asset automatically transfers to another beneficiary, such as a stepchild.

A Life Interest Trust allows surviving partners to receive an income or make use of an asset for a given period, allowing them to be supported, without children from their spouse’s previous relationship being disinherited.

Lifetime gifts

A straightforward way to ensure children receive a guaranteed inheritance is to leave them a stipulated gift in the will.

It is important to take expert advice when leaving lifetime gifts, because Inheritance Tax laws apply. Nevertheless, gifting is a good way to achieve peace of mind that your estate will be divided as you wish, and that no one will be left out.

Tenants in common

There is an option to set the ownership of any joint property as ‘tenants in common’. As opposed to ‘joint tenants’, this means that each owner holds a specific share rather than the two owning the entire property equally. This allows each owner to pass their individual share to whoever they choose when they die.

Provision may be made for the surviving spouse to remain in the property, leaving the deceased’s share in trust for their beneficiaries until such a time as the property is sold, or the spouse remarries or dies.

Estate planning for blended families – tailored advice from Partridge Muir & Warren

For blended families, there is a lot to think about when planning an estate and writing a will. Mistakes are easily made, and those mistakes can result in upset amongst any family members who have been inadvertently disinherited, as well as Inheritance Tax issues.

Here at PMW, our experienced estate planning experts are on hand to guide blended families through the estate planning process. We will ensure everyone fully understands the potential repercussions of their decisions, and that those they wish to benefit from their estate will do so, with minimal tax liabilities.

To learn more about how our team can help with estate planning for the modern blended family, you are welcome to get in touch.