When two divorced or widowed individuals with children from a previous marriage join together into a blended family, it comes with all sorts of new joys and challenges. While you are adapting to life with your new spouse and stepchildren, your estate plan might be the farthest thing from your mind. But there could be some unfortunate consequences for your biological children, your stepchildren or both if you or your new spouse should pass away without making certain key revisions to your estate plan.
Unintended loss of inheritance
Minnesota estate law does not recognize stepchildren as a person’s descendants for the purposes of inheritance – unless that person legally adopted those stepchildren as their own. What this means is that any clause in your will that references “my children” or “my descendants” will only apply to your biological children, not your stepchildren. Likewise, your new spouse’s estate plan will exclude your own children if they don’t update it.
This can cause problems for your children if you pass away before your new spouse does. Minnesota law entitles your spouse to an elective share of your estate. This means that, even if your will states that you want all of your belongings to go to your children, your spouse can still take a portion of it. That portion is much greater if you die without a validly executed will in place.
In other words, your stepchildren could be unintentionally deprived of a large portion of their inheritance if your spouse passes away before you do, as your combined marital estate would go primarily to your biological children. The same could happen to your children if you are the first to pass away.
How to prevent this outcome
Revisit your estate plan with a competent attorney, so that they can help you to identify any possible contingencies to plan for. Make sure you name each of your stepchildren individually by name, rather than relying on general terms. Ensure that your new spouse does the same for your children in their will.
You may want to further protect your children’s inheritance from situations such as your spouse remarrying or writing your children out of their will after you pass away. This can be done using a variety of estate planning tools, such as trusts. With the right provisions in place, you can ensure that your children receive your intended gifts for them no matter what happens.
It can be an exhausting but rewarding challenge to adapt to your new life with your new blended family. Taking the time to revise your estate plan can help to prevent challenges from arising down the road that could tear your new family apart.