Law Office of Stephen W. Penn and Associates

Ways to protect your legacy when you remarry after divorce

A blended family begins when someone previously married or who has children from a prior relationship begins a relationship with another divorcee or someone who has children from their previous relationship or marriage. Blended families are more common now than they were decades ago when divorce was still relatively unusual.

Large, blended families with stepchildren and stepparents are simply a part of modern life. There are many ways for you to adjust to life as a stepparent, just as there are many unique legal and financial considerations that come with marrying someone who has children from a previous relationship or who does not have a biological tie to your children. What you may not consider is the impact on your estate plan.

Conflicts between your kids and your spouse may present the single biggest risk to your intended legacy when you die. Unhappiness with the terms of your estate plan could lead your children or your spouse to challenge your last will and drag your entire estate through probate, potentially undoing your hard work of planning your estate. Thankfully, there are things you can do now to protect your wishes and the financial resources you want to leave for your children.

Review and update estate planning documents regularly

Dying without an estate plan or last will on record will ensure that the probate courts manage who gets what in your case. However, dying with an outdated estate plan or last will could easily produce the same scenario.

If your spouse or your children can point to very old provisions in the last will as proof that it doesn't reflect your intentions near the time of your death, the courts may alter the terms you set or even throw out the entire document.

Creating a last will is only the first step in safeguarding your legacy. After that, you need to make periodic reviews of your estate plan and changes when you acquire or dispose of certain assets, expand your family or change your mind about certain terms.

Explain to everyone your wishes and priorities

Disappointment or unhappiness with a last will is more common in scenarios where people have expectations about what they want to inherit that don't reflect the actual wishes of their loved one. If you don't explain to the people in your life how you intend to split up your assets among your children and your spouse when you die, that could lead to unrealistic expectations.

Your spouse might think that they will inherit your real estate, with no amount of its equity or value going to your children. Your children, on the other hand, might assume that an adult spouse has less of a claim than your biological children do to certain assets. When everyone knows what you plan and who should get what, family members are less likely to fight over the terms of your will or challenge it in court.

Make structural decisions based on preventing conflicts

When you create a new estate plan after remarrying, you can do so with the understanding that your blended family situation might eventually push some people to challenge the will when they otherwise would not.

Whether you choose to create a trust to have more control over the dispersal of your assets or decide to include a no-contest clause in your estate plan, there are numerous ways for you to address future challenges at the time that you create the estate plan.

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  • Henry P. Collada Memorial Award 2012