What’s important to know about estate planning with stepparents and stepchildren? Every scenario is different, but the ultimate key to estate planning in blended families is clarity and candor.
Forty percent of marriages in the U.S. today are remarriages. According to the Pew Research Center, the number of people who have been married more than once has doubled since 1980. Needless to say, blended families are a large and important part of our society and require special consideration when it comes to estate planning.
Many people don’t realize that the law in North Carolina makes a distinction between children and stepchildren. People need to be particularly mindful of how they word their estate documents. Making provisions in your estate plan for your “children” will not include your “stepchildren,” unless you specifically spell that out. The key to estate planning in blended family situations is clarity and candor.
Let’s be honest, despite all the good intentions in the world, some parents will eventually want “their” children to benefit from their estate, as opposed to stepchildren. Unfortunately, these hard conversations often don’t take place. Even worse, some families make the mistake of using fill-in-the-blank, “DIY” or internet estate planning documents that utterly fail to address their reality.
In some blended families, the marriage takes place while the children are young and the kids grow up together. This scenario is vastly different from the later in life marriages where the children are grown, the stepparents have little relationship with the stepchildren, and step-siblings hardly know each other. Throw in the typical resentments that exist in these circumstances and it’s easy to see how, without careful and precise estate planning, conflict and mistrust can and will arise in these family dynamics.
Wives and husbands need to sit down and have this conversation with each other. People need to talk to each other and be honest about what they want to happen at their death. Avoiding the issue or papering it over can only spell trouble later on. There are a number of estate planning tools, including trusts that are invaluable in making sure that the parents’ wishes are honored and that all members of the blended family are treated respectfully. The guidance and advice of a seasoned attorney is vital in this process.