According to the US Census Bureau, the number of Blended Families outnumber Traditional Families in the United States.  A Blended Family is a family that consists of children from previous marriages – think of the television show – “The Brady Bunch.”

Blended Family Estate Planning Challenges

Blended Families create their own unique set of estate planning challenges.  Did one spouse bring significantly more assets to the marriage than the other spouse?  Has this second marriage lasted three years or thirty years?  What is the relationship between a spouse and the step-children?  Is the intent to make sure a surviving spouse is cared for upon the first spouse to die – or does the surviving spouse have sufficient assets of their own to care for themselves?  Is the intent for each spouse to leave their assets to their own respective children?

Blended Family Estate Planning Analysis

When working with clients that have Blended Families, I go through the following steps to help them decide how to structure their estate plan:

1.   Inventory each Spouse’s Assets.  A lot of times people don’t realize what assets they have. Also with Blended Families, we determine what assets are “his”, “hers” and “theirs”.

2.  Explain the difference between “Probate Assets” and “Non-Probate Assets”.  Once we have a list of assets for each spouse – we then need to classify each asset as either a “Probate Asset” or a “Non-Probate Asset.”  This is a fundamental concept of estate planning and it has a huge impact on estate planning.

  • Probate Assets are assets that DO NOT automatically transfer to your heirs upon your death.  Your Will tells everyone who inherits your Probate Assets when you die.
  • Non-Probate Assets are assets that DO automatically transfer upon your death.  These are assets that have beneficiary designations (i.e.  life insurance, retirement accounts), are jointly owned with someone else, or are held in a Trust.  We have to look at the terms of the beneficiary designations or the Trust to determine who inherits Non-Probate Assets.

3.  Explain Surviving Spousal Rights upon Death.  In Illinois, a surviving spouse is entitled to

their “Illinois Spousal Share.”  For Example – if a deceased spouse dies with a Will that states their children inherit everything, Illinois law allows the surviving spouse to elect their Spousal Share and take 1/3 of the Probate Estate anyway.  Note:  The Spousal Share does not affect “Non-Probate” Assets.

4.  Explain What Happens if You Die Without a Will.  If a person that is married with children dies in Illinois without a Will, half of their Probate Assets go to their surviving spouse and the other half of their Probate Assets are split among their children.  We look at beneficiary designations to see who inherits Non-Probate Assets.

Conclusion

By going through this estate planning analysis, Blended Families have a better understanding of their estate and can use Wills, Trusts, life insurance, and beneficiary designations as tools to create an effective estate plan that will leave a positive legacy to their intended heirs.

This article is a service of Attorney Chad A. Ritchie and the Ritchie Law Office, Ltd.   We don’t just draft documents at the Ritchie Law Office, Ltd.  We ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer an RLO Estate Planning Discovery Meeting — during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today at (309) 662-7000 to schedule an RLO Estate Planning Discovery Meeting and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge. You can also schedule an RLO Estate Planning Discovery Meeting through our online calendaring system by clicking here.