Couples often bring children into a marriage from a prior marriage or union and then have children together. This is often referred to as a blended family. Blended families highlight the need for careful estate planning to make sure the needs of each spouse are met, as well as the needs of each parents' children.
If one spouse is significantly younger, this sometimes means that the older spouse's children are close in age to the younger. There can also be sibling rivalry between children of a parent and step-children. These relationships can cause more than friction between the step-parent and step-children.
Most parents want to ensure that their assets will pass to their children and/or grandchildren, and maybe not their stepchildren. However, without careful estate planning, there is no guarantee that their children will inherit their assets. In fact, if the couple creates identical wills such that their assets pass to the survivor of them, there is a significant likelihood their children will be disinherited.
This is because all of their assets will pass to the surviving spouse to do with as he or she pleases. This can result in the surviving spouse excluding the stepchildren, who then receive nothing.
Poor planning can lead to a race for survival between spouses. A will can be changed at any time; therefore a surviving spouse could change his will after the death of the first spouse, leaving nothing for the first spouse's children.
Another common occurrence is for each spouse to name the other as a beneficiary on accounts or pieces of real property. Doing so will not allow the bank account, piece of property or other type of asset to pass to anyone else, regardless of what their estate planning documents provide.
A trust, however, can allow a spouse/parent to "rule from the grave." At the death of the first spouse half of the trust assets can be locked down. With this type of planning, each spouse can have the assurance that their share of the trust assets (or one half) will pass to their children, grandchildren or any other person they wish. The remaining assets are used for the surviving spouse, and will then pass as that spouse wishes.
We help families of all types plan so that their savings, home and other property passes the way they intend. This involves getting to know you and your family and having a complete understanding of each spouse's wishes. If you'd like to discuss your particular situation, please contact our Milwaukee office at 414-253-8500.