The modern American family comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, and configurations.  This creates unique circumstances when creating wills and trusts and putting a long-term care plan into place.

There is always potential for conflict when it comes to estate planning in general, but the added element of a blended family can compound problems. Those who are married later in life may choose to leave their entire estate to their biological children while the spouse does the same.  In other situations, both spouses may choose to leave their assets to the surviving spouse or to do a combination of both. While other times, many step-parents decide to consider their non-biological children in the estate planning process as well.

It may seem unlikely now, but there is potential for a spouse who receives your assets outright to disinherit your biological children. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid this if you want to preserve some or all of your assets for your biological children. 

Utilize Estate Planning Tools

When you plan ahead with an experienced estate planning attorney, you can ensure your assets are safe for your children. You can establish a trust like an Asset Protection Trust that would allow your spouse to have access to a certain portion or all of your assets without changing the later beneficiaries from your children. Then, when your spouse passes away, your children would receive whatever is left or the portion you protected for them, based on how you designed the trust.

Trusts are great estate planning tools in that you, as trustmaker, get to set the rules for the trust. This could include deciding what assets you want your spouse to have access to and what assets you want to preserve for your children. This could also include building on restrictions on the value of assets your children could access at one time. 

How to Avoid Disputes with Stepchildren

Family disputes are common when dealing with someone’s potential inheritance, especially in blended families. Thankfully, there are ways to be proactive and hopefully, avoid those disputes down the road. The first way to help avoid or minimize any disputes with stepchildren is to have a conversation with the entire family before anyone passes away. This will allow you and your spouse to make your wishes clear to everyone to avoid any potential claims from your children or stepchildren that you or your spouse did not actually want the outcome included in your estate plan.

If you and your spouse are worried about having a family conversation or want to use another opportunity to explain your decisions, you and your spouse can add language into your estate planning documents to explain why you made the decisions you did. 

Stepchildren and Intestacy

If you are unable to put an estate plan in place before you pass away, then you are considered to die intestate. When someone dies intestate, the distribution of their estate is determined by state law. 

In North Carolina, stepchildren are not considered as potential heirs under current intestacy laws. If you adopted your stepchildren, then they would be considered as potential heirs because once you have adopted a stepchild, the law sees them as your legal child versus your stepchild. 

Create An Estate Plan For Your Blended Family

We’ve helped many North Carolina families design customized estate plans for their unique family situations. We understand the concerns faced by our married clients in blended family scenarios and can help you design a plan that fits the needs of your family. Call us at 919-533-4716 or schedule a free needs assessment call to discuss how to get started.

Jackie Bedard
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Attorney, Author, and Founder of Carolina Family Estate Planning
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