A common issue in estate planning these days is the blended family. With a 36% divorce rate in the United States (per the NCHS, as of 2016), many good folks ultimately find themselves in subsequent relationships, including second (or even third, etc.) marriages. Back in 2013, 40% of marriages included at least one spouse who had been previously married – that percentage is not decreasing. And, it’s not always divorce that leads to blended families. With increased longevity, many folks who have outlived their first spouse wind up in serious relationships and subsequent marriages.
These “blended families” can be a blessing for the couples and other family members in many ways and on many levels. But they can also be a cause for concern, when it comes to planning and providing for subsequent spouses and children from prior marriages. A very common concern that we hear in my office is “I want to make sure my current spouse is properly provided for should I die first, but I also want to protect my children’s inheritance.”
In the case of second, etc. marriages, properly prepared ante-nuptial (pre-nup and post-nup) agreements can be an effective planning tool. However, more often than not, we meet with new clients who have remarried without those contractual agreements in place, and they don’t want to go through the legal steps needed to put a proper post-nuptial agreement into effect. Or, they feel that their marriage has grown beyond the restrictions of their pre-nup, and now wish to provide more generously for the survivor’s benefit, while still protecting their children.
There are different and sometimes additional concerns for folks, especially seniors, who have entered into later in life relationships without remarrying. Frequently, folks wind up living together in one or the other’s residence, but have not been added to the deed or other assets as either co-owners or beneficiaries. Florida has no “common law marriage” (abolished by statute back in the 1960s), and while not being remarried can avoid some default complications that can otherwise ensue under Florida law, it can also leave the surviving partner exposed and sometimes at the mercy of the deceased partner’s children or other heirs.
Different assets, such as real estate (homestead, etc.) and qualified accounts (IRAs, etc.) have different legal and tax implications that must be contemplated when estate planning for a blended family. Fortunately, various estate planning techniques can be applied to such situations so that both spouses can be comfortable knowing that their concerns for each other, and their respective children, are addressed.
An experienced estate planning & elder law attorney is best situated to advise and quarterback an estate plan. The attorney should coordinate with any financial advisor and accountant used by the family to put all the legal, financial and tax planning pieces together, as well as to address concerns regarding potential disabilities and long term care issues. The “puzzle” of estate planning for a blended family can be successfully completed, so that the illness or death of a spouse/partner does not trigger unpleasant consequences that can otherwise ensue.
Shaun W. Wiedrick is an Estate Planning and Elder Law attorney with 20 years of experience.
His office is located in The Royal Palm Financial Center, at 759 SW Federal Hwy., Suite 212, Stuart, FL 34994.