Estate planning can be challenging if you have a blended family. Also known as a step-family, a blended family is created when parents bring together children from a former marriage or relationship. In a blended family, at least one parent has children that are not biologically or legally related to the other parent or partner.
Often, an adult in the blended family wants to provide for their spouse/partner and children from a previous marriage by including them in a will or trust; however, they may also want to include (or exclude) a new spouse’s children from a former relationship as well. This can sometimes make estate planning complicated, and it can create conflict between your surviving family members. It’s important to work with an estate planning attorney to ensure that your plan is enforceable and doesn’t create problems and disagreements within your family after you die.
Who You Can Protect With an Estate Plan
An estate plan allows you to protect your spouse, children, stepchildren, and anyone else to whom you wish to leave property. However, if you don’t have a properly executed estate plan, Louisiana law will decide who gets your property. If you die intestate with a surviving spouse and children, your property will be distributed as follows:
- Community property. Community property is property that is acquired during your marriage and jointly owned by you and your spouse. In some states, surviving spouses inherit community property. However, in Louisiana, surviving spouses and the decedent’s children become co-owners of community property.
- Separate property. Separate property includes everything that is not community property. If a person dies and has surviving children (or grandchildren or other descendants), all of their separate property goes to the children, and the surviving spouse does not have any right to the separate property.
This distribution of property may not be what you want. Instead, you may want to divide your property differently among your spouse and children; you may want to provide property to your stepchildren; and you may wish for specific property to go to specific people.
What to Consider When Creating an Estate Plan
If you and/or your spouse have biological or adopted children of your own, you want to make sure that your estate plan reflects your priorities. Accordingly, it’s essential to work with a New Orleans estate planning lawyer who will help you:
- Execute an enforceable will that reflects your wishes
- Create appropriate trusts and identify responsible trustees
- Name financial and healthcare powers of attorney, so there is no confusion over who can make decisions if you are incapacitated
- Form a business succession plan, so your business goes to someone who wants it
- Make sure the home you share with your spouse remains your spouse’s property if that is your intention
- Change beneficiaries on things such as life insurance policies that pass outside of probate
Our goal is to create enforceable and explicit estate planning documents, so you feel confident that your loved ones are well cared for. Because clarity is important, you may want to include specific names in your estate planning documents rather than terms such as “children.” Although you may have raised your stepchildren and love them as your other children, and you may not differentiate between your children and stepchildren, Louisiana law does. If you die without an estate plan, your stepchildren will not inherit anything directly from you.
Alternatively, you may decide that you do not wish to include your stepchildren in your estate plan. You have that right, and an unambiguous estate plan can prevent any miscommunication about your intent.
Avoid Estate Planning Mistakes That Could Hurt Your Family
Spouses who die without enforceable estate plans may create unintentional legal problems for their family, and those problems may be even more significant for blended families. For example:
- If you die intestate, your spouse may only have a life estate, or usufruct, interest in your property. Your property may belong to your children, which may create tension and resentment between your children and spouse.
- Your children’s other parent may be appointed to manage your children’s inheritance if they are still minors when you pass away. This may create conflict between your current spouse and your children’s other parent, leaving your children caught in the middle.
- If you leave everything to your spouse and you die first, your spouse may create their own estate plan to disinherit your children and leave them with nothing. You may trust your spouse, and your spouse may have the best of intentions, but circumstances may change. Your spouse may remarry, or the children may try to have changes made to the estate plan.
Our estate planning attorneys want to help you avoid these problems, so your loved ones avoid any unnecessary estate litigation, stress, and sorrow.
How to Create or Revise Your Estate Plan in Louisiana
Our experienced Louisiana estate planning lawyers can help you create an estate plan or review your current plan. We will present you with all of your options, so you can make informed decisions and protect all of the people you love. In some cases, we may suggest that you revoke any previous wills and other estate planning documents and create new ones; in other cases, you may be able to revise the documents you’ve already executed.
Your estate plan will be unique and tailor-made for you. We do not use cookie-cutter or generic estate plans that may not meet your needs. Whether you have already created a blended family or you intend to do so, we encourage you to contact us to schedule an estate planning meeting. You can call us or complete our contact form any time to schedule your meeting.