Are you or a loved one part of a blended family?  Do you have a valid Will?  There is no doubt that making a Will is important for everyone and especially if you are a member of a blended family.  

Blended families and where to begin? 

A blended family is a family where one or both partners have a child or children from previous relationships. There is no blueprint when it comes to estate planning for a blended family.  Issues to consider are varied and will evolve as a result of changing needs of family members and fluctuations in asset values over time.  The key to successful estate planning lies in identifying the potential issues which may arise within each family unit and considering the available options to deal with these issues. 

Having an open and frank discussion with an experienced Wills & Estate lawyer can assist in ensuring that all your intended beneficiaries are provided for when you die and that the potential for conflict within your family is minimised. Once made, it is important that your Will is reviewed regularly to take account of changing circumstances- of both you and your loved ones.

Competing Interests 

Each family will encounter different issues however the most common consideration faced by a Will-maker within a blended family are the competing interests of past and present partners, biological children and stepchildren. The Will-maker is likely to want to look after their current partner and their own children from their previous relationship. There may also be children of the current relationship to consider and perhaps children from the partner’s prior relationship. 

In years gone by, a Will for a couple typically provided for the estate to pass to the surviving partner in the first instance and then upon their death, to the children. This type of Will is frequently not appropriate for blended families as it requires children of the deceased to wait until the stepparent dies before inheriting.  Furthermore, there is always the risk that the surviving partner may change their Will so that the deceased’s own children miss out. Additional considerations (even if a Will is not changed) include that the assets and their values may diminish over time, leaving considerably less or little for the deceased’s children. 

In some instances, if adequate provision is not made for a loved one under a Will, an eligible beneficiary may be able to challenge the Will by making a family provision claim.  If this occurs, it without exception will cause distress, delay, and uncertainty for family members during an already sad and stressful time.

Possible solutions 

There are often solutions to these issues which can accommodate and provide for all of a Will-maker’s family members.  In a blended family, a Will-maker may choose to provide an immediate gift to their children upon their death, rather than children waiting to inherit after the death of a partner.  

For estates where this may not be possible, a life insurance policy nominating the children as beneficiaries might be appropriate to consider.

If an estate is more significant in value, the Will could provide for an immediate gift of real estate, money, or other assets to children. This option safeguards against the possibility of children missing out on an inheritance should the Will-maker’s partner later change their Will or the estate assets diminish. 

If real estate is held between partners in a blended family as joint tenants, you might consider and explore changing this to a tenancy in common. A joint tenancy means that the share of property held by a deceased tenant automatically passes to the surviving tenant on the death of the first person. This cannot be changed via a Will. However, if the property is held as tenants in common, your share may be left to your children subject to leaving your partner a life interest or right to reside in your share of the property, following which the property can pass to your children or other named beneficiaries.   

On any view, it is clear that there can be no ‘one size fits all’ solution for blended families.  However, being aware of the possible issues and obtaining legal advice will ensure you are best placed to make informed choices about your Will.  It will assist you in weighing up competing interests and how you might ensure all of your intended beneficiaries are provided for under your Will and that the potential for conflict within your family is minimised. 

Should any of these issues raise concerns or questions for you, feel free to contact us to arrange an appointment with one of our caring and compassionate Wills & Estates lawyers.