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Estate Planning for the Blended Family

From Brady Bunch to Modern Family, we’ve come a long way in the makeup of today’s families. When it comes time to draft up the blended family’s estate plan, it can get complicated. Here are a few typical situations to consider:

Step Children: Often in second marriages, each spouse comes into the marriage with children from a previous marriage, and sometimes the spouses then have children together. But New Jersey law makes a distinction between children and stepchildren for inheritance purposes. If a stepparent wants a stepchild to inherit some of their estate, they need a will that specifically provides for that. Otherwise, that stepchild does not inherit anything.

Marital Home Owned by Only One Spouse: It’s not uncommon in a blended family for one spouse to move into the home of another spouse. But unless both spouses are on the deed, if the home-owning spouse dies, the house does not automatically go to the surviving spouse if there are step-children in the family. Sometimes that result is what the couple wants, and sometimes it isn’t. In order to make sure the house goes to the person you want, you need to set up that gift in your will. There are options for the house that you should understand; for example, you can draft a will that lets your spouse stay in the house for their life, and then the house goes to your kids when your spouse dies or moves out.

Understanding the “Elective Share”: New Jersey has a law that gives a surviving spouse the right to a percentage of a deceased spouse’s estate, in certain circumstances, even if the surviving spouse was not left anything in the will. The law is complicated and doesn’t apply to every situation, but it’s important that you know that if you are married and want to leave everything to your kids, you need careful estate planning to avoid an elective share claim.

Safeguarding Your Assets From an Ex-Spouse: An ex-spouse has no right to inherit from your estate. But make sure that you’ve removed your ex-spouse as a beneficiary on your retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and annuities (unless your divorce judgment requires the ex to be a beneficiary). Also, consider whether assets you pass to your children could be inherited by your ex-spouse if your children were to die. Careful planning can make sure that doesn’t happen, using trusts, properly titling accounts, and designating the right beneficiaries.

These are just some of the estate planning issues that are unique to blended families; contact the author Melanie M. Levan with these or others.


The article above: (1) does not create or constitute an attorney-client relationship, (2) is not intended as a solicitation, (3) is not intended to convey or constitute legal advice, and (4) is not a substitute for personalized legal advice from a qualified attorney. You should not act upon any such information without first seeking qualified professional counsel about your specific matter.