Steps, Exes, and Estate Planning

If you've been married more than once, estate planning is rarely a simple matter. Learn how Life Care Planning Law Firms help blended families sidestep conflict.

How do you keep the peace in a blended family?

Creating a detailed estate plan is a good place to start.

D. Rep DeLoach III, an estate planning attorney and one of the partners at DeLoach, Hofstra & Cavonis, P.A., a Life Care Planning Law Firm in Seminole, Florida, has many years of experience helping clients use estate planning techniques to diffuse difficult blended family situations. “Estate planning can be a minefield for anyone, but it’s even worse if you’ve had multiple marriages,” said DeLoach, who is Board Certified by the Florida Bar in the field of Elder Law. “Each spouse may have brought different assets into the marriage and may have different objectives when it comes to passing assets to children from different marriages or to each other.”

If exes and stepchildren are part of your picture, what should you avoid?

Procrastination
Don’t wait to create your estate plan. “Your ex-spouse may get some of your assets if you neglect to update all your beneficiary designations on retirement or life insurance accounts,” DeLoach warned. “Make sure your intentions are clear on which assets are to be identified as separate property versus the community or joint property of the couple. Spell out every detail in your legal documents about what you plan to leave your spouse and children from all previous marriages.” 

Bad Durable Power of Attorney
Downloading a document from a legal website or relying on a general practice attorney to draft a Durable Power of Attorney is another common mistake. “Many people end up with Powers of Attorney that don’t give them the authority needed to protect assets or preserve the estate plan,” DeLoach said. “In other cases, the wrong people are named.”  A good Durable Power of Attorney, for instance, can help create Living Trusts, avoid probate, protect assets from the nursing home, and more.

Getting Guidance from Non-Attorneys
Relying on advice from legal websites, neighbors, relatives, or non-legal professionals can be dangerous. “Working with anyone other than an experienced estate planning or elder law attorney exposes you to tremendous risk, especially if you came to a second (or third, or fourth) marriage with property acquired before marriage or you want to give highly valued assets to children from a previous marriage,” noted DeLoach. “Even experienced financial planners and others in the financial industry won’t have the knowledge or experience to follow the rules of your state.”

Not Funding Your Estate Plan
One key part of estate planning is knowing where each asset goes upon your death. “If your assets are in your own name, are jointly held with another person, or have beneficiary designations, it all makes a huge difference in your estate plan,” DeLoach noted, adding that it’s vital to fund an estate plan correctly, which means making sure asset ownership is consistent with the estate plan. “Many people do not fund their revocable living trusts, for instance, which is a recipe for disaster for people with multiple marriages.”

Though well-crafted estate planning documents can’t promise to prevent all family conflicts, they diffuse much of the energy that contributes to them. “In the many dysfunctional blended families, no amount of planning will keep the peace,” added DeLoach. “If you discuss these matters openly and express your intentions clearly through legal documents, plus accurately retitle your assets as part of the process, the odds are better that you’ll be able to leave this life without starting World War III.”