Estate planning that involves blended families

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Estate Planning That Involves Blended Families

The objective a thoughtful estate plan is to address the unique and sometimes pressing needs of a client and their family. Some plans are straightforward because there is only a single child or spouse, but the high rate of divorce means that many drafting a will, trust or estate plan often will include second (or third) wives, biological children and step-children. It can get even more tangled if there are grandchildren or even great-grandchildren involved.

Many hope that the blended family dynamic is as harmonious as the Brady Bunch, but it may not be the case. Moreover, even if it is at the moment, things can change after the death of spouse, parent or grandparent. The decedent making the arrangement needs to be realistic about the circumstances, taking into account the various family dynamics involved.

Tips for making it easier

This all may sound daunting, but it can be a matter of realistically evaluating the situation.

  • Have a plan: Not drafting an estate plan or just leaving everything to a final spouse can cause a lot of headaches, especially if there are biological children as well as a surviving spouse’s stepchildren.
  • Create a trust for the final spouse: This can enable them to live comfortably while still ensuring assets eventually go where you wish.
  • Pick the right trustee or executor: A spouse or child may not have the aptitude or interest in managing an estate, handling probate as well as addressing legal or informal disputes among family members.
  • Plan a contingency if a spouse remarries: A will or trust can address this.
  • Disperse some assets: Passing some assets or a business to children upon death may make sense and likely be appreciated even if a spouse is still alive.
  • Pick someone to handle health care decisions: Many elderly are not able to make informed decisions in their final years, so someone with power of attorney should be prepared to do this, ideally with instructions if you become incapacitated.
  • Do not keep your plans a secret: It is generally best to inform beneficiaries of your plans, which enables them to plan according and be prepared.

Not only can estate law attorneys help clients address tax, legal and financial issues here in New Jersey, but they can also be a reliable and neutral presence that can address issues like probate as well as unforeseen disputes that arise.


Michael Ritigstein is a Founding Partner of the firm concentrating his efforts in supporting the firm's litigation, corporate and estate matters. Mr. Ritigstein graduated from the University of Delaware in 1996 and Seton Hall University School of Law in 2000. In 2007 he received a Masters of Law in Taxation with a concentration in Estate Planning, from Temple University's Beasley School of Law.

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