Families come in all shapes and sizes and today a large percentage of families are considered blended families. In fact, 40% of families in the US have at least one partner with a child from a previous relationship, 100 million Americans have a step relationship and approximately one-third of all weddings in America today form stepfamilies.
One Size Fits All?
While blended families are by no means unusual, they do present unique Estate Planning questions and considerations. Should family assets be combined or segregated? Will your assets be passed to the person you would choose? Will the state’s distribution of assets leave children and step-children in dispute? Will family harmony be preserved?
In Massachusetts, if you do not identify and legally document your goals and desires the state’s Law of Intestacy dictates the distribution of your assets. For blended families, these rules are especially important to know. While many blended families are complicated, the state’s plan is “cut-and-dried” for every blended family no matter their personal dynamics. There is a high likelihood that the state’s plan for your Estate does not match what your plan might look like if you were to create one.
Under Massachusetts’ Intestacy Law, your spouse receives all of your estate if you (1) have no surviving parents or children or (2) if your children are descendants of your spouse, who has no living children from other relationships.
However, if other people are involved it can get a bit trickier. If you have a living parent when you pass then your spouse gets only the first $200,000, plus 3/4 of any balance of the estate. If either you or your spouse have children from another relationship (even if you also have kids together) the surviving spouse receives only the first $100,000 plus 1/2 of any balance of the estate.
The process of the state sorting out the estate of your blended family is settled through probate court, which is a costly and time consuming process. probate court decisions can result in significant confusion and discord among family members, and may not reflect what you would want for your family.
Talk to An Expert
For blended families, estate planning with a knowledgeable Massachusetts estate planning attorney is crucial. For remarried spouses, a conversation about financial goals and proper legal documentation can prevent a ripple of heartache throughout the family should an unexpected death occur.
For more information on Estate Planning for blended families, please contact Matthew Karr at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617.299.6976.