Estate Planning for the Blended Family
Every family is different. Those with adopted children, stepchildren or serving as a guardian face unique concerns when creating an estate plan. The law treats adopted children much different than stepchildren or a child (or grandchild) where you may be serving as guardian. The good news is you have options depending on your goals. If this sounds like you, read more to understand your estate planning options.
Adoption – Treated as equals
Adopted children are placed on an equal footing with biological children in most situations for estate planning purposes. Thus, adopted and biological children are treated the same way under a state’s intestate succession laws, which control who inherits property in the absence of a will. This equal treatment generally applies for purposes of wills or trusts that provide for gifts or distributions to a class of persons, such as “children,” “grandchildren” or “lineal descendants” — even if the child was adopted after the will or trust was executed.
Stepchildren – No inheritance rights unless adopted
Stepchildren generally don’t have any inheritance rights with respect to their parents’ new spouses unless the spouse legally adopts them. If you have stepchildren and want them to share in your estate, you should either amend your estate plan to provide for them expressly. Often, we use a trust that identifies each child and spells out the treatment under the trust. This can mean all children (yours, mine and ours) are treated equally or, sometimes, we will spell out specific assets or amounts to be gifted to the children. Your plan should be designed to work efficiently while minimizing friction among your children. There a number of ways to create your plan, which of course, depends upon your specific circumstances, concerns and goals.
Individuals serving as a guardian face unique questions and concerns in creating an estate plan. Unless parenting rights of the natural parents have been terminated and other factors have been met, the State will not recognize a “ward” as your heir. In situations where a grandchild is the ward, this presents issues. Do you want the child to participate in your estate as a child or as a grandchild after their natural parent? The State will generally distribute assets to the parent first, if they survive you, which may or may not be the desired outcome. A properly crafted estate plan can address these concerns.
Spell out your wishes
If you have children who are adopted, stepchildren or for whom you serve as guardian, clearly address your intentions in your will or living trust. We can provide for your loved ones in the way you wish while also protecting and preserving your legacy. We can help.
Estate Planning Attorney, Todd Rasmussen, of Estate Planning Kansas City is responsible for the content of this message. With offices in Overland Park, Leawood and Kansas City, his firm, Estate Planning Kansas City, helps clients with their estate planning needs. This article is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended to render legal advice. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be made solely on the basis of this article.