By Sonia Chan Lee, Esq.
Blended families can create a number of the most difficult challenges when it comes to estate planning. The tension between a step-parent and step-child can be significant. If you are in a blended family, and have biological children not from your current spouse, you need to be aware of this tension. The challenges are not always apparent now or even apparent until one spouse passes away. Then things can explode if they have not been planned out in advance.
And that's what we're talking about in this issue of Sonia's Estate Planning Horror Stories. The situations we have witnessed where there may be a blended family and the family did not do any kind of estate planning to properly address the issues that could come up. Here are just a few to consider:
- Medical care and potential pull-the-plug decisions. By default, in most states and in California, a spouse has priority in the event that the other becomes incapacitated, ill, or on his or her deathbed and requiring end-of-life medical care and decisions to be made. If the dying parent has children from a prior relationship, they may want to make those decisions, creating a lot of unnecessary disagreements, stress, and resentment. Even if you have decided that you want your spouse to make these decisions for you, that must be clearly established through an estate plan, which would reflect one's wishes versus California's default plan.
- Potential World War 3. In the event that you pass away, if you do not have an estate plan, as noted above, your spouse could have quite a few options, including a right to reside in your home that you were living together in, access to your financial accounts, and even rights to solely inherit your assets. Many times, there is considerable stress caused by arguing over who gets what, your spouse or biological children. Let's just say, it can get ugly, which leads us to another point…
- Risk of cutting off your children. If everything does go to your surviving spouse without planning and discussion beforehand, countless times the surviving spouse will set up their own estate plan and leave everything to their biological children, completely cutting off your children!
These types of situations and stories are not just plausible, they are likely. We have experienced them far too many times. These problems could be avoided with appropriate planning ahead of time, but you cannot do anything about them once you become too ill or disabled to make these decisions and, of course, once you're gone.
This is why seeking out a qualified and licensed attorney, specializing in the area of estate planning, is recommended. You will get the necessary counseling and planning recommendations to address all of your family's special circumstances and needs and ensure that your desires and wishes are properly enforced when the time comes.
If you or someone you know have a blended family and you have not set up an estate plan (or you haven't updated in quite some time), simply contact our office or attend one of our upcoming free informational seminars and let us help you and all of your loved ones get the peace of mind you all deserve to know that things are properly set up for life's “what if's” and “when's”.