Modern family dynamics can pose an incredible challenge to conventional estate planning strategies. In the not-so-distant past, blended families were a relative rarity. Today, however, millions of American children live with re-married parents and stepsiblings. While blended families are often indistinguishable from others, creating an effective estate plan can be underlain by unexpected complications.
Why Estate Planning Can Be Difficult for Blended Families
A blended family is any family wherein at least one parent has children that are not biologically related to their spouse. Blended families face unique challenges in estate planning. Even if you, and your partner, have already had a conversation about how estate planning, you may need to consider the following:
You May Need More Than a Will
A simple will is the only surefire way to avoid the uncertainties of intestacy proceedings. While a last will and testament could keep your assets safe from intestacy, leaving your estate to a spouse could deprive your children of an inheritance. A last will and testament cannot, for instance, protect estates from the rigors of Florida probate.
Even if your spouse intends to distribute your assets in accordance with your wishes, your legacy could be compromised by their own estate plan (or lack thereof).
You Cannot Predict the Future
Life has an unfortunate habit of being anything but predictable. You might have a stable career, significant savings, and long-term aspirations, but your estate plan should account for the unexpected. This might include:
- The possibility of divorce
- The possibility that your spouse could predecease you
- The possibility that your spouse could remarry if you pass away first
You Need to Account for All of Your Children
Blended families are especially vulnerable to estate challenges and contests, making estate planning a matter of practical necessity. A comprehensive estate plan could help you:
- Provide for your spouse
- Protect your biological children from uncertainty
- Account for your stepchildren, who may not be afforded any inheritance rights under Florida state law
Estate Planning Strategies for Florida Blended Families
Florida blended families could benefit from the following estate planning strategies:
Well-Considered Beneficiary Designations
A beneficiary designation allows Florida residents to transfer assets directly to named heirs. Beneficiary designations may be indicated on certain bank accounts, retirement savings accounts, and life insurance policies.
Any assets bequeathed by a beneficiary designation may pass directly to the intended beneficiary without the need for probate.
Power of Attorney and Advance Directives
Preparing for your legal future means planning for your potential incapacity, which means creating the following documents:
- The financial power of attorney. The financial power of attorney, or durable power of attorney, provides a third-party agent with the authority to make financial decisions in the event that you are ever incapacitated. With the financial power of attorney, your attorney-in-fact could pay your bills, administer a business, and manage subscriptions.
- Not all durable powers of attorney are equal! Make sure a good elder law attorney creates your Florida Durable power of attorney.
- Designation of Health Care Surrogate. The health care surrogate designation gives third-party the authority to make your health care-related decisions. With the health care surrogate, your nominated surrogate can decide what medical treatments you should—and should not—receive.
- Who should be your Health Care Surrogate is a very important decision
- Living Will. A living will is a written (or oral) statement that says what you medical procedures you would want, or not want, if you were incapacitated.
- Here are some frequently asked questions about living wills
Without the powers of attorney, family members may be forced to petition the court to determine who should be afforded the right to manage your affairs. In blended families, this can cause significant stress if the spouse, biological children, and stepchildren have disagreements about the best way to manage financial affairs or health care.
Revocable Living Trusts
A revocable living trust is a legal entity that can receive, own, and manage assets. A Florida trust could receive assets including, but not limited to:
- Your home and other real property
- Your trust would allow you to keep your homestead for tax purposes
- Bank accounts, CDs, etc.
- Investment/Brokerage accounts
- Business interests
- Promissory notes
Trusts have many potential uses. However, most Floridians use revocable living trusts to condition inheritances and shield their assets from probate.
A trust can also provide an additional layer of security to blended families. Since trust-based inheritances are not typically subject to probate administration and can be conditioned, they allow parents to make informed and specific decisions about how their legacy should be executed.
Contact an Experienced Florida Estate Planning Attorney Today
Florida law may not seem designed to accommodate blended families, but parents can still exercise their rights to protect their loved ones from uncertainty. Please send DeLoach, Hofstra & Cavonis, P.A., a message online or call us at 727-397-5571 to speak to a Florida estate planning attorney and schedule your initial consultation.