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Estate planning in a blended family

Pennsylvania residents who are creating an estate plan may run into particular challenges if they are part of a blended family. One scenario that may cause problems is one in which there are children from a previous marriage as well as a child from the present marriage. In one of these cases, a woman was concerned about securing financial stability for her and her husband's autistic daughter. She was afraid that demands made by her husband's teenage children from a previous marriage would deplete what they had to leave and that if she died first, her husband would not honor her wishes.

The couple had decided that they would only pay directly for the older daughters' educations if they were doing well in school and that they would only give them money to help their grandchildren. One way the woman could try to ensure that her husband kept to this agreement would be by having each of them sign a contract saying they could not change the will. However, this would not prevent the husband from giving the daughters money from assets that do not pass through probate such as a 401(k).

Trusts would be another option. There could be living trusts that became irrevocable upon the death of either spouse. Alternately, a special needs trust could be set up to care for the autistic daughter.

Creating an estate plan is a complex process not only because of the legal precision required but because doing so deals with families, human emotions and human behavior. Communicating with family members and beneficiaries about one's wishes if possible is important, but it does not always guarantee that a person's wishes will be carried out. An attorney might be helpful in putting together an estate plan that is less vulnerable to challenges.

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