Blended Families and Estate Planning

by | Jul 3, 2024

In today’s world, a large part of the population comes from blended families. The fusion of two families can offer enriching experiences but also presents distinct challenges, particularly concerning estate planning. At Axis Law Group, our estate planning attorneys specialize in crafting personalized estate plans that align with your specific wishes and circumstances. Here are key considerations for blended families to contemplate when addressing estate planning:

 

Beneficiary Designations

In blended families, financial accounts often retain separate ownership, each with designated beneficiaries. These designations typically ensure that assets are inherited by the account owner’s biological children. However, it’s crucial to note that a trust cannot supersede a beneficiary designation on a financial account.

For instance, suppose Justin has a bank account where his two biological children are listed as beneficiaries. Upon marrying Hailey, who has three children from a previous relationship, Justin and Hailey establish a trust stipulating that the bank account should be distributed among all five children. Following Justin’s passing, the bank would distribute the account solely to his two biological children, adhering to the original beneficiary designation.

This example underscores that estate planning involving trusts for financial accounts generally requires a two-step approach. First, specify in your trust how assets should be distributed. Second, ensure the trust is designated as a beneficiary on the account by contacting the financial institution. Failing to complete this second step means the trust cannot govern the distribution of your financial accounts. Understanding this process is critical for blended families to ensure their estate plans are executed as intended.

 

Intestacy

Under Missouri’s intestacy laws, a surviving spouse is entitled to a significant portion of the estate in the absence of a will. The exact entitlement varies based on whether there are children and their origin from previous relationships. For example, if the deceased remarried and one or more children are from a prior relationship, then the spouse is entitled to half of the estate. The remaining assets are divided equally among the children. Consequently, it is important to properly estate plan with blended families. Without a will or trust, a surviving spouse could receive a substantial portion of the estate, potentially leaving biological children with a reduced share or, in some cases, nothing.

 

Elective Share

Spouses in Missouri are entitled to an elective share, ranging from 30% to 50% of marital property (depending on if there are descendants from the marriage). This means that if you intend to distribute more than 50% of marital property to your biological children, the court may intervene, allowing the surviving spouse to opt for the statutory share instead. Notably, separate property can be distributed according to each spouse’s preferences.

Elective shares underscore the importance of distinguishing between marital and separate property. Marital property includes assets acquired during the marriage, whereas separate property encompasses assets acquired before marriage or inherited during the marriage. Couples can define asset classification through prenuptial or postnuptial agreements. However, commingling separate property with marital assets reclassifies it as marital property, affecting estate planning decisions.

Blended families offer wonderful dynamics yet can present complexities. Allow a seasoned estate planning lawyer at Axis Law Group to guide your family through these intricacies. Schedule a free consultation today!