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Estate Planning for Second Marriages (and Beyond)

There are a number of issues in that arise for estate planning in second marriages, as discussed in the article “Estate planning documents for second marriages”. It is common to refer to such relationships as blended families, especially when children are involved on one or both sides.

Here’s an example of how important estate planning is for blended families: A couple who has children of their prior marriages get married. Twenty years later, the husband dies. He had wanted to provide for his second wife, so his will and beneficiary designations for his accounts stated that all his assets went to his wife, with the understanding that on her death, those assets would go back to his children.

What actually occurred was that his wife lived a long time after he passed, and she simply combined their assets. When she died, the money went to her children (as her will stated), and her husband’s children received nothing. The husband’s children didn’t believe that was necessarily the intention, but that sort of thing happens all the time when estate planing for second marriages is overlooked.

How could proper estate planning for blended families have prevented this? Husband could have provided in his will or trust that his inheritance would be left behind in a marital trust to hold the assets for his second wife on his death, and then, upon the wife’s passing, the assets remaining would have gone to his children. The terms of the trust document would allow the wife to use the property in the marital trust to provide for her needs to maintain her standard of living, but would prohibit the wife from transferring the assets to her children (or a new spouse, etc) either during her lifetime, or upon her death.

It’s wonderful to have a verbal agreement with your spouse about taking care of your children from a prior marriage, but if you don’t set up a formal legal plan, there’s no way to be sure that agreement will actually occur. If you document it properly in your own will or trust, however, it becomes mandatory. It’s a way to provide for your new spouse, and also protect your children. An attorney with experience in estate planning for blended families can help document a plan that you feel great about.

Another layer of protection that is available to ensure that children from a blended family receive what they are intended, is to have an independent person or entity, like a bank or a trust company, oversee the marital trust. That means the independent trustee can ensure that the use of property from that trust is truly for the surviving spouse’s needs, and not something that the first spouse to die would not have wanted the money or property to be used for.

Anyone who has been divorced needs to review their estate planning documents to ensure that they reflect their new marital status, especially when they marry again. That is also the time to review beneficiary designations that appear on insurance policies, 401(k)s, pensions, retirement accounts and investment accounts.

There’s no “set it and forget” plan for estate documents, so before you walk down the aisle a second or third time, or shortly after you do so, speak with an estate planning attorney to clarify your goals and put them into the appropriate estate planning documents.

Reference: Cleveland Jewish News (May 7, 2019) “Estate planning documents for second marriages”


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