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Estate planning in blended families may bring harsh realities

As divorce is commonplace, the chances that you will marry for a second time, or marry someone who was previously married is relatively high. Blending families is difficult, with spouses and children facing many readjustments as they find their places in the post-divorce landscape and begin anew. 

Emotional and psychological barriers

Even when a family has never been subject to divorce, there are emotional and psychological hurdles to overcome during estate planning, namely, issues of fairness and that of communication problems. The conversations are uncomfortable, and may cause considerable conflict within a family. When one or both spouses are married for the second time, these issues are magnified.

Many blended families tend to overlook or willfully ignore estate planning. This is understandable, as issues of favoritism and exclusion may open old wounds and magnify hurt feelings that may or may not have been resolved at an earlier time.

Communicate unequal division early on

When parents decide to divide their estates unequally between children, significant problems are to be expected, particularly when parents fail to discuss their estate plan prior to their death. If you or your spouse have been married before and there are children from either of those prior marriages, or if you went on to have children together, you need to make some difficult decisions about your estate.

One of the most important concepts you and your spouse must approach is the concept of equal vs equitable and notions of fairness. For example, say you and your husband have five children, three of which were from his first marriage, one was from yours, and then you went on to have a fifth child together. Is it fair for all five children to have the same percentage allocated to them? What about the fact that three of those children will inherit from their biological mother? Or the child that will inherit from his biological father? Is it fair that the youngest child from the intact marriage will get the same as the other siblings when he or she doesn't have another parent from which to inherit?

Accept and acknowledge the nature of a blended family

The bottom line is that in estate planning, as in other areas of life, problems occur when a blended family tries to deny the reality of what they are: two different and distinct family units that were broken apart and brought together to create a new family, unique but different from what was there before. No amount of time can erase that fact, and it must be accepted. Estate planning is a situation in which the nature of your family unit and ties cannot be ignored.

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