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Estate Planning for Blended Families | Navigating Complex Family Dynamics

Blended families are family groups made up of a couple and unrelated children from previous relationships. While blended families can be incredibly enriching and rewarding, they can often give rise to particular difficulties and tensions unlike those seen in traditional families.

As a parent, ensuring your children are safe, happy, and comfortable will be your number one priority. This is why effective estate planning is so important, it will ensure that your children are protected and financially secure after you pass away. However, estate planning for blended families can be complex and difficult to navigate. Let’s find out more.

Automatic Entitlement

Under Scottish law, children are automatically entitled to a share in the estate of their biological parent after their death. However, given that children in blended families will only have one biological parent, this can obviously cause issues.

According to the law, children in a blended family would not be automatically entitled to a share in a step-parent’s estate, only a biological or adoptive parent’s estate. Step-children can receive a share in a step-parent’s estate, but only if they are named as a beneficiary in the will.

When estate planning for a blended family, it’s vital that you keep these things in mind. It can prevent confusion and arguments from developing further down the line.

Updating Your Will

According to data from the Office of National Statistics, blended families are becoming more common, rising by 22.9% over the past 10 years to a 2022 total of 3.6 million.

If you remarry with children from a previous relationship, it’s absolutely vital that you and your partner review and update your wills when estate planning. Wills and estate plans should be reviewed and updated after any major life event, such as a marriage or the birth of a child, to ensure your family will be protected and cared for in the event of your death.

Failing to write or writing an incorrect will can see children in blended families missing out on inheritance, so it’s vital your wills are correct and up-to-date when estate planning with your partner.

In traditional nuclear families, mirror wills where the estate is transferred to the surviving spouse are common. However, these can prove ineffective when estate planning for blended families. The surviving spouse may alter their will or remarry and choose to exclude their step-children from their inheritance.

Trusts

When estate planning for your blended family, one of the most effective and appropriate approaches is to set up a trust. A trust can be set up while you are still alive, or you can leave instructions in your will for a trust to be formed after your death.

Whoever sets up the trust is referred to as the Trustor or the Settlor. They are responsible for moving assets into the trust, which can be cash, investments, or property assets. While the settlor or settlors manage the trust, they do not own any of the assets. Instead, ownership is transferred to the trust itself.

When estate planning for a blended family, a life interest of liferent trust can be particularly effective. In these trusts, children can be named as beneficiaries, while the surviving spouse can benefit from assets until their death. At that point, ownership of the assets is transferred to the beneficiaries.

Setting up a trust can be the perfect way of ensuring that your children are protected when estate planning for your blended family.

Conclusion

Arguments and disputes about inheritance can cause deep family rifts. These problems can be exacerbated in blended families, where laws and rights are less clear and less defined. Use the advice we’ve outlined in the guide above to make the right decisions when estate planning for your blended family.