Blended families, a term often used to describe families where at least one spouse has children from a previous marriage or relationship, have become increasingly common in our society. While these can be strong family units, they also present unique estate planning considerations. This is in part because Arizona law guarantees that shares of a person’s estate pass in varying proportions to a person’s current spouse, to children from prior marriages and to children from a current marriage, unless the individual takes affirmative steps to make alternate distributions.

If you are in a second or subsequent marriage, here are some key estate planning decisions you may have to face:

  1. Providing for children former marriages  These children have a right to 50 percent of your assets, with the remainder going to your current spouse and children of the current marriage.
  2. Providing for stepchildren  Although you may bond with your spouse’s children from a prior marriage, stepchildren are not considered your next of kin, so they can receive a share of your estate only if you make explicit provisions.
  3. Ownership of the family home  Children from your previous marriage may be entitled to 50 percent ownership of a home that is occupied by your current wife. He or she may have to buy them out to keep the home.

Any of the following tools may be useful in estate planning for blended families:

  1. Family trust — Designated assets go into a combined trust and the surviving parent is named as trustee, with authority to use these assets for the benefit of children of the second marriage and of the prior marriage(s). Family trusts can ensure that assets are distributed according to your wishes, while providing flexibility for the surviving parent.
  2. Marital trust — Your current spouse becomes the trustee of designated assets, subject to the condition that upon his or her passing, the assets will pass to the children from both spouses. This option, though sometimes complicated, can work well in allowing your current spouse to keep the marital home during her lifetime.
  3. Revocable trusts — This is also known as a living trust. Assets remain under your control as long as you are alive, then pass to a successor trustee you have named. This trust is especially popular in blended family scenarios, due to the fact that it be modified as your family situation changes.

An experienced estate planning attorney can create a tailored plan that ensures your assets are distributed as you intend, provides for all your loved ones and addresses the specific challenges of your blended family. Remember, as your life changes, so should your estate plan, so periodic reviews and updates are essential to ensure your wishes are upheld.

The Law Firm of Joseph M. Udall, PLC in Mesa helps Arizona residents draft legal instruments to protect and distribute their assets. Please call (480) 500-1866 or contact us online to discuss your needs.