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The "blended family" - how will it affect your estate plan?

Over the past few decades our society has seen the rise of what is known as the "blended family." Think of "The Brady Bunch" here - a blended family is when a couple gets married after they were previously married to someone else with whom they had children. The blended family is a household where the re-married couple and all of their children are living together. Although this may sound like a good time for everyone involved, there is the potential for conflict and controversy in a blended family, maybe even more so than in a traditional family. And the conflict could rise to dangerous levels when the issue of estate planning comes up.

A recent article detailed some of the best ways to account for these family changes in an estate plan. Entering into this type of family situation will of course necessitate the updating of a will and probably some other documents. A re-marriage is a prime opportunity to evaluate the changes that will be needed in an estate plan. New relatives might need to be included, or left out. Guardians for minor children may change as well.

This is all assuming that an estate plan was already in place prior to the blending of families. If a person dies without an estate plan, or at minimum a will, that person is said to have died "intestate." If this is the case, state law will determine who will receive a portion of the estate and how large that portion will be.

One of the primary goals of an estate plan is to avoid probate litigation. With a blended family, the potential for court battles is ripe if a will does not specifically designate property distribution. A formerly divorced person getting re-married can be great, and new stepchildren can be a blessing, but it is important to remember that big changes like this may necessitate big changes to an estate plan.

Source: Poughkeepsie, "Plan estate carefully for blended family," Bernard A. Krooks, Feb. 23, 2013

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