A traditional “nuclear family,” typically consists of a mother, father, and two children. However, what makes up a typical family structure in our society has shifted to a more complex structure, including step-children, cohabitation, same-sex couples, and blended family structures. While basic estate planning principles are similar for any family, there may be extra steps and caution needed for blended, or what may be viewed as non-traditional, families.
A blended family may consist of step-children, half-brothers and sisters, and multiple, successive marriages. An important document to create regardless if you are in a blended family is a will. If you die without a will, the state will determine who in your family gets what assets. With a blended family, there are many complex issues that could arise if advanced estate planning is not carried out. One example is when a couple is married and each spouse has children from previous marriages. If one of the spouses die, his or her estate might be passed to the surviving spouse but the surviving spouse may be able to prevent the deceased’s children from seeing any part of the estate. However, if advanced estate planning is executed, a dilemma like this can be avoided. As someone who comes from a blended family, it is important for my family to execute advanced estate planning so that all of our wishes are carried through.
States now recognize same-sex marriages, but oftentimes couples may still be confused of their marital rights. Same-sex couples are entitled to the same rights as anyone else, but their rights may be questioned and challenged more than a heterosexual couple. I recently worked with same-sex couple who told me they always kept a copy of their marriage certificate on hand in case there was to be an accident and one spouse needed to make medical decisions for the other. They fully anticipated having to prove their marriage with documentation in order to make such decisions. With proper estate planning, same sex couple can mitigate uncertainty and potential challenges regarding their legal rights.
Cohabitating couples are couples who are unmarried but live together in an intimate and committed relationship. Property and inheritance laws do little to protect cohabitating couples, so they must make an extra effort to protect themselves in the event they split up. However, a cohabitating couple can take proactive steps to help protect their rights while also safeguarding their individual interests and assets in the form of a cohabitation agreement and/or estate planning documents. A cohabitation agreement is a contract that spells out the legal relationship between an unmarried, cohabitating couple. These agreements typically cover property and finances, division of the couple’s home when the relationship ends or one party dies, etc. With proper estate planning, unmarried couples can still plan to provide for each other in the event one party predeceases the other.
If there are adopted children in your family, be sure they are accounted for in your estate and trust documents. In Minnesota, upon adoption, the adopted individual becomes the legal child of the adopting parents. This means that if you die intestate (without a will), then your adoptive child has a right to a portion of your estate. However, in situations such as this, it is important for families to utilize estate planning tools to ensure your intended desires will be carried out.
As the marriage paradigm shifts, planning for the future can be challenging. Whatever your family’s configuration may be, estate planning is an important step to take to safeguard the people you love and your assets. Schromen Law, LLC is here to help ensure that your wishes are understood and fulfilled.
The material contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to create or constitute an attorney-client relationship between Schromen Law, LLC and the reader. The information contained herein is not offered as legal advice and should not be construed as legal advice.