Do You Have a Blended Family? Estate Planning is Critical for You

Posted by: Adair M. Buckner

Many people have no idea what state law says about distribution of their property if they die without a will (intestate). With blended families, the issues can become complicated.

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What Happens To Inheritance In Blended Families Without Wills

If you lack a will, living trust or some other form of estate planning document when you die, and have not designated a beneficiary, the assets you own at the time of your death will pass by intestacy. Intestacy means that state law (either where you live or where some types of property are located) will govern who inherits what from your estate. This may not be the way you want your property to pass. If thats the case, you should consider the benefits of having a will made.

In Texas, in a blended family, a surviving spouse keeps his or her one-half of the community property, but the decedents other half will go to children from the deceased spouse's prior marriage, if any, not the surviving spouse if there is no will or trust saying otherwise. Separate property (what you receive by gift or inheritance generally) has even more complicated rules for distribution on death where there is no will, and depends on whether it is real property or personal property. This can cause serious family problems. The surviving step-parent and step-children may not be on the best of terms. Forcing them to share interests in the deceased spouse's property can lead to really sticky situations. Fights can arise over who occupies the property, who pays for expenses, whether to sell or keep the property, and like issues. If there are also children of the second marriage, the formulas for intestate inheritance are even more complicated.

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In addition, a stepchild does not inherit from a stepparent without a will providing for this, unless the stepparent adopted the stepchild. This may not be what you want, especially if you have raised the stepchild as your own. If you want your stepchildren to inherit anything from you, you must spell this out in a will or trust.

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How To Provide For The Disposition You Want

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Providing for everyone you love can get tricky. Most people want to provide for their second spouse as well as their children, either by a prior marriage or the current marriage. What you want may not happen, though, unless you have done the right estate planning beforehand. If you know there are specific items, specially separate property you owned before the second marriage, that you want to go to your children from the prior marriage, you should provide for a list of those things to accompany your will. If you owned a home or other real estate before a second marriage you may want to allow your surviving spouse to continue to live there for life or until remarriage, but then ultimately to go to your children. These arrangements would have to be spelled out in your estate planning documents. 


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