The prospect of divorced or widowed parents merging their clans into one hectic household was once the stuff of TV sitcoms. But more and more, blended families are becoming commonplace in Florida as elsewhere. These nontraditional arrangements present special issues for estate planning. Couples might not be married and children might not be legally adopted. Spouses in second marriages might maintain separate finances and wish that their respective children inherit their property. Whatever variation of blended family you may have, careful attention must be paid to achieving your intended objectives.
For spouses in a blended family, the first stage of estate planning is to decide how you want your assets to be distributed. If you are married, what do you want to happen to your property if you are the first spouse to pass away and what do you want to happen when your surviving spouse dies? If you have children from another relationship, how do you want them to be provided for? What provisions should be made for other, unrelated members of your household?
If you decide that you would like to leave the entirety of your estate to your children from a previous relationship and not to your spouse, simply revising your will to name your children as your sole beneficiaries may not fully accomplish this goal. Florida law guarantees your surviving spouse an elective share of your estate, which amounts to 30 percent of certain assets. This means that even if you don’t leave anything to your spouse, he or she can take legal action to receive their share.
Also to be considered is Florida’s homestead law, which automatically gives your surviving spouse a “life estate” in your home if he or she is not a co-owner. The property passes to your children only upon the spouse’s death. If your spouse issues a formal homestead waiver, the property passes under your will or under Florida’s intestacy law, which splits ownership 50/50 between the spouse and children.
A useful tool for transferring your property in a blended family is a revocable living trust. It allows you to set controls on how each asset will be managed and distributed, under the supervision of a trustee that you name. For the family home, the trust can give the surviving spouse a financial incentive for waiving his or her homestead rights and allowing the children to take full ownership. The trust can also make provisions for other designated household members.
Estate planning for blended families can be complicated and requires a skilled hand. The experienced legal team at Bankier, Arlen & Snelling Law Group, PLLC in Delray Beach can ensure your spouse, children and other loved ones are taken care of according to your wishes. To arrange a consultation, please call M. Adam Bankier at 561-278-3110, Robert M. Arlen at 561-279-1880 or Linda L. Snelling at 561-501-7778 or contact us online.