Most people consult an attorney, establish a thorough estate plan, and then forget about it. As important life events occur, however, your family dynamic may change considerably, and your old estate plan may no longer be sufficient to cover your family’s evolving needs. If you remarry after a divorce, there can be serious consequences if you forget to update your estate plan – especially if you and your new spouse both bring children into your new blended family.
Problems that could arise
The sad truth is that families tear themselves apart every day over ambiguous or contested terms in wills. If you want to minimize the likelihood of your children, stepchildren and spouse becoming embroiled in lawsuits and will challenges after you pass away, it’s important to make your estate planning documents as clear as possible.
For example, in your will you might direct that you want your executor to divide certain assets equally among all your children, without naming them. If you don’t update your will, then all of your assets will go solely to your biological children, and your stepchildren will get nothing – since “children” under Tennessee estate law excludes any stepchildren that you didn’t legally adopt before your death.
How to avoid these problems
Make sure that you revise your will and other estate documents to specifically mention your stepchildren by name if you want to include them. You can make sure that your new spouse does the same thing for your biological children, so that they are not left out if you predecease your new spouse.
Unfortunately, if you pass away before your spouse, there would be nothing stopping them from revising their will to benefit their own biological children at the expense of yours. Thus, if you are concerned about the possibility of your biological children not receiving their inheritance, you may be able to ensure that they receive what you intend them to through the use of one of several different types of trusts.
Don’t forget to replace all references to your previous spouse with your new spouse throughout your estate plan, including any life insurance policies, trusts and so forth.
Estate planning for blended families can be complex. But making sure that you tie up all loose ends and leave no ambiguity or contradictions in your estate plan can be one of the best ways to minimize the likelihood of your new blended family facing ugly litigation after you are no longer with them.