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The structure of families has changed in the United States: According to statistics cited by the Pew Research Center, six out of ten women who remarry are in blended families, and in about half of those remarriages, stepchildren live with the remarried couple. Unfortunately, the default inheritance rules in Oklahoma for those without estate planning don’t reflect how blended families typically want their estates to be treated. If you or your grown children are part of a blended family, your estate planning needs to reflect the special considerations and complexities involved.
Each family has its own dynamics and priorities—and blended families bring another dimension that must be considered as you create your estate plan. The decision about whether, and to what degree, to provide for your stepchildren or step-grandchildren in your will or trust is an important decision. The following factors are among those in play:
- When you remarry, the ages of both you and your new spouse and the ages of your children have an impact on estate planning decisions. If you and your spouse are older and both financially independent, and all of your children are adults, it may make sense for each of you to leave your assets to your own natural heirs. However, if you and your new spouse are young adults, and your children are quite young, it is more likely your spouse and children will be dependent on you for financial support and that you will play a significant role in raising each other’s children. In this case, you may decide to provide extra protections for both your children in your estate plan.
- Importance of bloodline. For some people, it is very important that their own children or grandchildren receive the bulk of their money and property. This may be the case even in situations where younger stepchildren are involved and their relationship with those children is strong.
- The nature of your individual relationship with each of your step-children and step-grandchildren typically has a direct effect on how you want them treated in your estate plan. Some people are less inclined to provide for stepchildren with whom they haven’t developed a close relationship. Other times individuals view their stepchildren with as much love and affection as they do their own children and may everyone treated equally.
- Heirlooms and Sentimental Property. If one of your ancestors brought a special piece of furniture or jewelry that has been passed down through generations, you may want it to pass to your own children or grandchildren or to another blood relative when you pass away. This may also be the case if you have items that belonged to a deceased spouse that are of sentimental value to your own children or other family members.
It is important to keep in mind that unless you have legally adopted your stepchildren, they generally have no legal right to inherit anything from you at your passing. Similarly, if you are a grandparent, your step-grandchildren will have no right to inherit from you if your child has not legally adopted them. If you want to leave money or property to stepchildren or step-grandchildren, you must specifically name them in your will or trust.
Additionally, it is important to realize that if you remarry and leave all your money and property to your new spouse in your will, he or she is free to leave nothing at all to your own children at his or her death, even if that is against your wishes. Likewise, if you are a grandparent and leave money or property to your adult child, and that child dies before his or her spouse, then the spouse could receive any remaining amounts and is free to spend it or leave it to his or her own children. Your child’s spouse would not be under any obligation to leave the remaining money or property to your biological grandchildren.
Fortunately, there are ways to ensure your wishes are carried out even with the dynamics of blended families. If you would like to ensure that your stepchildren or step-grandchildren are treated in the way you intend, it is important to consult with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney to design your estate plan in a way that reflects your wishes.
Littleton Legal Can Help
If your family is one of the millions of blended families in our country today, Littleton Legal can help you navigate estate planning tools such as wills, trusts, lifetime gifts, and beneficiary designations to create the estate plan that’s the best fit for your family. Please call us today at (918) 608-1836 to set up an appointment to discuss your unique circumstances and goals; we’d love to help you accomplish your wishes for your blended family.