Yes, I suppose they fit the broad definition of a blended family, but the story of the “lovely lady” and a “man named Brady” was, of course, simply that. A story. When I turn off the TV and look at today’s blended families, my first observation is how very unique and different they all are. (Or as one estate planner remarked to me: “If you’ve seen one blended family, you’ve seen one blended family.”)
Estate planning for blended families is complex and it requires a watchful eye and a delicate touch. Clients in blended families should understand that there are important additional issues unique to them that must be addressed, like how to properly provide for their spouse without accidentally disinheriting their own kids. If there are minor kids, planning for their custody adds further complexity.
These issues raise a number of questions around estate planning. Do your clients need a living will, a revocable living trust, an irreovcable trust, or charitable trusts? How do you decide and draft the plan they need. The options might seem overwhelming to clients, and understanding their needs is the first step to piecing this puzzle together.
Understandably, many couples will be inclined to procrastinate, uneager to revisit past relationships. But reaching a successful outcome to their estate planning demands that they plan with an eye toward the past as well as toward the future. An experienced estate planning attorney can help facilitate those potentially painful conversations.
Working from a retainer with signed informed consents and waivers of conflict is always good practice in estate planning matters, but it’s even more important with blended families.
Even with careful planning and thorough documentation, unexpected disagreements can arise. Through the planning process, the couple may find their objectives aren’t completely consistent. Sometimes those differences can be worked out, but if a conflict grows and the disagreement becomes irreconcilable, withdrawing from representation may be the necessary next step.
Best advice: Help couples in blended marriages identify their particular circumstances and the characteristics of their relationship that make them unique. Honor their differences but guide them toward those things they have in common.