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Beneficiaries: early estate planning in blended families

Blended families are now part of the landscape here in Texas and across the country. In fact, a recent report suggests that more than 40 percent of American adults have a step-relative of some sort. As folks live longer and more marriages end in divorce, the list of possible beneficiaries for an estate continues to expand.

As the population of the country ages, the way that funds earmarked for inheritance are dispersed changes. Older people are dipping into funds that beneficiaries may have expected to inherit in order to pay for things like medical treatments and the increased cost of housing.

Estate planning documents may aid an individual in planning inheritances for their chosen beneficiaries. When a family is blended, without proper foresight, a new spouse may inherit what the children of a first marriage thought was theirs. This can lead to strained relationships and even expensive and divisive litigation.

To avoid these sometimes-touchy situations, Texas residents may benefit from early estate planning. Additionally, it makes good sense to plan to update documents to reflect changing family dynamics as marriages end and new ones begin. This may offer comfort to adult children concerned about a potential inheritance.

There are many estate-planning tools to be considered as a person works to protect their beneficiaries in the context of a blended family. In some situations, estate plans can stipulate that a new spouse be permitted to remain in a home after the owner is deceased. Then, any remaining value in the home could be left to the adult children as beneficiaries upon the death of the spouse.

This sometimes complicated process is different for each situation. A careful review of personal relationships, assets and debts is an important first step in planning an estate. The effort will likely be worth it for the chosen beneficiaries when they receive their inheritance.

Source: USA Today, "With more blended families, estate planning gets ugly," Haya El Nasser, March 14, 2012

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