Nowadays, having a blended family is becoming increasingly common. This can cause estate plan documents to need additional details in order to include or exclude children from a spouse’s previous marriage as beneficiaries of an estate plan.


When it comes to step-children from a spouse’s prior marriage, it is up to you to decide if you would like to include or exclude those children as beneficiaries of your estate. This decision can stem from multiple factors such as whether you are close with the children, if you have your own children who you would prefer receive all of your estate, or if you want your estate to be split evenly or at different rates between step-children and others. It is not required for you to legally adopt any step-child in order to have them considered a child for the purpose of your estate plan documents by naming them as beneficiaries/legatees. If you name them as beneficiaries/legatees, they will receive assets as you describe within your will or trust. By treating step-children as your own children for the purpose of your estate plan documents, it does not cause you to then have any additional legal responsibilities for those step-children.


While adopted children, whether the child of a previous spouse or from an outside party, can count as a blended family, the documents would reflect those adopted with the same representation as if they were biological. This means that as long as the adoption has been completed and is legally valid, the documents will automatically provide estate distributions to each adopted child in equal shares as if they were biological children.


It is common that clients will want to give something to step-children but may want to give more shares to their biological children. This is an important distinction to make when speaking with the estate planning attorney as this must be specified within the documents. If this is not specified, the documents naturally distribute everything in equal shares to the children.

If you do not have any biological children of your own but do have step-children, it is not required that you distribute any of your estate to them. While this is not common, it does happen in situations where you may be closer to other members of your family or if you do not get along with or do not have contact with the step-children. This is another important decision to voice to your estate planning attorney, so they know to not include the step-children as children of yours for the purpose of the documents.


One very important thing to consider is that while you may not have children of your own, you still have heirs to your estate. If you decide to leave your estate to your spouse’s children, who are not biologically or legally also your children, then there is a chance that your heirs could attempt to contest the documents when you pass away. Typically, this is done when heirs feel as though they should have received part of the estate, but the documents do not provide them with any share. This can then lead to a lengthy and expensive probate litigation case which prolongs the probate estate case as well as depletes the trust assets, resulting in the possibility of the Trustee or Executor not having enough funds from the estate to cover all of the expenses. Speaking with an attorney who practices in estate planning such as the Libertyville estate planning attorneys at Johnston Tomei Lenczycki & Goldberg LLC, can provide security in your choices by talking through the decision and weighing out the pros and cons of making this decision. While an attorney cannot guarantee that no heir will contest the documents, they can put in the necessary provisions to help negate the chance as well as give advice as to whether said heirs may or may not be likely to contest.


Johnston Tomei Lenczycki & Goldberg LLC is an established Libertyville law firm experienced in drafting documents that account for blended families. Contact us for further details or to schedule your initial consultation. Our first meeting is always free.


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