Estate planning can be fraught with stress even in the best of times. Many people put off drafting their last will and testament until well into adulthood, whether due to a lack of funds, unwillingness to deal with the reality of death, or other factors.
And if some time has passed since your original will was drafted, circumstances may have changed—divorce, remarriage, stepchildren—so that your current will is no longer the best way to distribute your assets. Read on for some factors you'll want to consider if you have a blended family and are planning (or replanning) your last will and testament.
Distribution of Assets to Heirs
If you have young stepchildren, you likely want to provide for them in the same way you provide for your natural children. But after your stepchildren have grown up and flown the nest, or if you married your spouse when your stepchildren were already adults, you may have some inclination to leave your natural children a greater share of your estate than your adult stepchildren. Alternatively, you can place funds for your natural children into a trust and give your stepchildren a non-trust distribution from the rest of your estate.
These desires can be complex, and you may feel some guilt for wanting to treat your stepchildren differently from your natural children. When consulting with an estate planning attorney, it's important to know that you won't be judged for the decisions you're planning. Your attorney may walk you through potential outcomes to ensure you're aware of all the collateral consequences of any decision you're planning, but the decision will ultimately be yours.
Passing Away Before Your Spouse
In just about every state, the "intestate distribution" of assets provides that half (or all) your assets go to your surviving spouse upon your death. Many states have also enacted laws that prohibit a spouse from disinheriting a surviving spouse by leaving them less than they'd be entitled to under your state's intestacy laws. But you may worry that, if you predecease your spouse, your assets will then be funneled to your stepchildren, leaving your natural children in the cold.
It can often be beneficial to execute joint wills with your spouse, as this ensures you're both aware of the other's wishes and there is a clear plan to treat all children of the marriage equitably. Alternatively, you can set up a living trust to benefit your children, with the understanding that any funds left after you die are your spouse's to dispose of as he or she sees fit.
For more information, contact a firm like Skeen Law Offices.