Blended families are very common.
Here are two trivia questions for you movie and late night television buffs.
First, what big name Hollywood stars played on-screen spouses in the 1968 film Yours, Mine & Ours? The basic storyline of the movie paired a widow and her eight children with a widower and his ten children.
Second, a year later Sherwood Schwartz (creator of Gilligan’s Island) took the same basic storyline and rolled out a hit television series that ran for 117 episodes. Can you name that show? [See the answers below.]
One reason commonly given for the popularity of these two classics is that they gave traditional nuclear families a lighthearted glimpse into the lives of blended families.
Times have changed.
In the new millennium, whether due to the death of a spouse or through divorce, blended families now outnumber traditional nuclear families.
And the number is likely to grow, based on current statistics and trends.
Many face unique social, psychological and economic challenges.
As a result, over 60% of second marriages end in divorce.
Fortunately, there are numerous organizations and support groups dedicated to helping blended families with these challenges.
Unfortunately, little attention has been paid to the critical estate planning challenges confronting blended families.
These challenges include disinheriting your ex-spouse and protecting your own children.
Without proper legal planning, your ex-spouse (as surviving parent/guardian) would likely be appointed by the probate court to manage the inheritance you leave to your minor children.
To make matters worse, what if your children later predecease your ex-spouse, and are single and childless at that time?
Who would inherit your assets then?
That is right … your ex-spouse, as the next-of-kin of your children.
Chances are you made a few solemn promises to your new spouse on your wedding day.
Among them were promises to be there through thick and thin, personally and financially.
In the absence of a premarital agreement to maintain separate assets, most spouses in blended families tend to blend their wealth.
For example, they title their respective assets in the names of both spouses and also designate one another as the primary beneficiary of their respective retirement plans and life insurance policies.
Warning: If you predecease your new spouse, then you may forever disinherit your own children from your share of such blended wealth!
Thereafter, upon the death of your new spouse, your assets may be inherited by your stepchildren, or even by your new spouse’s next spouse and their children.
Yes, things can get complicated – and fast!
Regardless whether children are reared in a traditional nuclear family or in a blended family, great care should be given to protect any inheritance both for them and from them.
For starters, wealth representing a lifetime of your hard work and thrift can be squandered in very short order.
Dollars earned just spend differently than dollars inherited.
In addition to good, old-fashioned squandering, an inheritance can quickly vanish through divorces, lawsuits and bankruptcies.
Fortunately, with proper (and very careful) estate planning, you can both honor your vows to your new spouse and provide an inheritance that is protected for and even from your own children.
If all this sounds like something you would want to avoid, then contact an experienced estate planning attorney as one of your first new year's resolutions to get the ball rolling.
So, how do you find an "experienced" estate planning attorney?
First, ask around. Friends, family and other professional advisors are trustworthy sources.
Second, conduct an "organic" search on "Google" for "estate planning" near you (e.g., "Estate Planning Anytown MoKan").
Third, either way, verify! Check out the education, experience, ratings and client reviews of any attorney before you contact him or her.
In fact, I use both of these services to thoroughly vett attorneys before referring members of our "client" family for legal help in other areas of law or for matters in jurisdictions outside Kansas or Missouri.
First answer: Henry Fonda played Frank Beardsley and Lucille Ball played Helen North Beardsley.
Second answer: The Brady Bunch, of course!
Remember: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When making your financial, tax and estate plans, do not go it alone. Be sure to engage competent professional counsel.
For more information about estate planning in Overland Park, KS (and throughout the rest of Kansas and Missouri), visit our estate planning website and be sure to subscribe to our complimentary estate planning e-newsletter while you are there