“If you say “I do” a second time and have children, your partnership acquires new stakeholders—not necessarily willing ones. Adult children have expectations about how much they’ll inherit and how soon. A new spouse scrambles that calculus.
When you marry, you’re entering a partnership that is emotional and financial. When you marry again and when there are children from prior marriages, you are all entering a brave new world. The number one reason that stepparents and stepchildren fight is over money, according to the article “Don’t Split Heirs With Your Estate” from AARP.
If you and your spouse are each financially independent and leave your assets to your heirs, you’ll be less likely to run into the big money issues. However, if one spouse depends on the other for support, assets will be needed for the other spouse’s lifetime. When there’s a big age difference, the children of the older spouse may end up waiting 10 to 15 years for their inheritance.
The couple’s first responsibility should be to their spouses. You can do this through your will, or a prenuptial or a postnuptial agreement. The goal is to make sure that the other spouse has enough money to live on. A surviving spouse does have the right to make a claim to a certain amount of the late spouse’s assets, in the absence of a will or a proper prenup. However, by taking care of this in the will, you can spare each other and your blended family from the time and delay that a claim will take. The award may be large or small, depending upon the laws in your state.
One way to head off some of the anger that may follow a first spouse’s death in a second or subsequent marriage, is to distribute at least a little bit of cash to all of the adult children in equal amounts. It’s not about the amount, but it is a signal that you are aware of them and their needs.
In blended families with good relationships, it would be ideal for children and stepchildren to be treated equally. If there’s a rational reason not to, like younger children who need college education funds, make it clear to all what the thoughts are behind the distribution.
Personal property is another source of conflict within blended families. If first-family heirlooms are claimed by second-family children, the whole family could be headed to court. Create a document that makes your wishes clear about which child should get what possessions and attach it to your will with the help of your estate planning attorney.
If you leave everything to your spouse, there’s no way to be sure your own children will inherit anything. There is a chance that after your death, the ties between children and stepparents could weaken. You may need to leave money for your children in a trust that provides income to the spouse for life.
Discuss your options with an estate planning attorney.