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Even in traditional families, estate planning can be an uncomfortable or difficult topic to broach. This tends to be even more challenging with a second or subsequent marriage, especially if you both have children from previous marriages or relationships. A significant difference in age and financial resources can also be causes of difficulty and potential delay. However, the consequences of avoiding this conversation are even more dire in a blended family because laws affecting estate distribution have been written to better fit the needs of a traditional first marriage.

Intestacy and unintended disinheritance

If the first spouse to die does not have a will and has children from another relationship, those children may not receive any inheritance from their parent. State intestacy laws are based on traditional family structures where the spouses are both the parents of the children. These laws attempt to provide the asset distribution that most people would prefer in the context of a traditional first marriage. As a result, most states provide that if you die without a will and are married, the majority of your estate will go to your spouse. In some states, all of your estate passes to them. If the surviving spouse also dies without a will, the children of the first spouse are not her heirs and will not receive any inheritance, which is not the outcome they or their parent would have expected.

Traditional wills for married couples and children from prior marriages

Married couples usually have reciprocal wills in which each spouse names the other as their beneficiary. Much like intestacy, this type of will is not a good fit for a blended marriage since it has the same risk of the children of the first spouse to die being disinherited. With a reciprocal will, you have no ability to influence or guarantee your surviving spouse's estate planning decisions once they receive your entire estate. Your surviving spouse has the full authority to select their own beneficiaries and is under no obligation to leave any assets, including those they inherited from you, to your children at their passing.

Second marriage planning issues

The estate plans for spouses in a second marriage need to address a number of issues that are not as important in a traditional marriage.

01

Protecting children of first spouse to die

In most traditional marriages, the children do not receive any inheritance until both parents pass away. In a second marriage, some assets are often distributed to the children of the first spouse to die immediately, instead of after the surviving spouse passes away.

02

Providing for your surviving spouse while preserving assets for you children

Planning for a second marriage is also different from a traditional marriage in that asset distributions need to be balanced between the new spouse and your existing children. Most spouses will want to provide for their surviving spouse while also ensuring that assets will exist to be distributed to their children.

03

Age differences between spouses

Where there is a wide age gap between spouses, there is a greater likelihood that the younger spouse will outlive their spouse and also a higher probability that the time between their deaths will be much longer. The children of the older spouse may not want to wait many years to get an inheritance when the second spouse dies.

04

Asset differences between spouses

When there is an age gap between the spouses, that often means they bring substantially different assets to the marriage, creating tension about inheritance timing. The younger spouse likely expects to inherit the couple's full estate, while the children of the older spouse expect to receive their parent's property at their death.

05

Business ownership and succession

Many business owners want their business to remain in their family. They see the business as their legacy and not just a valuable asset. They often want their biological children to continue operating the business after they are gone. In a blended family using typical reciprocal wills between the spouses, this may not occur.

06

Sentimental assets

The spouses often enter the marriage with property they purchased or inherited before meeting their new spouse. The spouses will need to decide whether these assets, some of which will have greater emotional than financial value, should be distributed to their children at their death instead of being left to their surviving spouse.

To learn more about the planning issues for second marriages and blended families, request your free copy of "Second Marriages, Blended Families and Estate Planning" today.
Graphic of our Second Marriages, Blended Families and Estate Planning booklet