The number of blended families in Canada grows every year as the divorce rate and the lifespan increases. This trend means that these couples must manage the legal and financial challenges inherent in a blended family, which are particularly challenging when there are children from a previous relationship.  Couples with blended families must balance between protecting their new spouse and ensuring that a portion of assets are eventually passed on as part of a legacy to their children.

Advanced planning is critical to ensure everyone’s needs are met and to avoid hard feelings in the future.  Here are some planning tips for blended families:

Communicate
Couples should spend time talking about each other’s needs and ideas about legacy planning.  Now is the time to be open and honest with one another and express any concerns.  It is important to talk about the details and get professional help if necessary to reach agreement on an appropriate plan.  Also, talk to your children about what is important to them.  Often, items of personal nature and not necessarily economic value cause the greatest amount of grief among potential heirs.

Whose is whose
Most couples of blended families enter into their marriage with assets, many after the death of a former spouse.  An individual may wish for those assets, inherited from their late spouse, be passed along to the children from that previous marriage. If a couple does not plan on the passing of one spouse, all the assets will likely transfer to the surviving spouse if one passes away intestate (without a Will).  This may not result in the intention of the late spouse and could either fail to provide for the children of that spouse, or create conflict between those children and the new spouse.  Having a Will is essential for blended families to provide clarity on how the couple wishes their assets to be distributed.

Trusts
A trust is legal relationship whereby assets are held by one party for the benefit of another.  A trust allows you to arrange for your spouse to benefit from your assets during his or her life and upon his or her death, provide assets to your children.  There are advantages and disadvantages to a trust and this option should be discussed with your lawyer and tax advisor.

Protect Vulnerable Family Members
Good estate planning should consider the needs of the members of each family including child beneficiaries, dependant elderly adults, and beneficiaries with disabilities.

Named Beneficiaries
Too many blended families forget to make revisions to their named beneficiaries on insurance policies and other benefits, such as pensions. It is heartbreaking and can be economically disastrous to find out that insurance benefits will go to a prior spouse due to this type of oversight.

Give Now
It may bring you and your family more happiness if you pass along some of your family heirlooms to your family while you are alive.  This affords you the opportunity to discuss with your family their wishes, and gives you time to accommodate any concerns.  It will also bring you a lot of joy to pass your treasures into the hands of your loved ones and to give them a chance to express their gratitude.

I work with blended families to understand their circumstances and ensure that their estate plan gives proper consideration to their unique situation.

The information provided above is for educational purposes only. This information is not intended to replace the advice of a lawyer or address specific situations. Your personal situation should be discussed with a lawyer.  If you have any questions or concerns, contact a legal professional.

The information provided above is for educational purposes only. This information is not intended to replace the advice of a lawyer or address specific situations. Your personal situation should be discussed with a lawyer. If you have any questions or concerns, contact a legal professional.

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