Estate planning can be more complicated for blended and nontraditional families.
Increasingly, "traditional" families are becoming a thing of the past. These days, almost every family is unique in its composition. Divorce (or death) and remarriage can blend children from several different unions into one large family. Some couples may choose to never marry, but build lifelong partnerships nonetheless. Others might be estranged from their blood relatives but have a strong network of "chosen family" who are just as important.
Trouble is, the law hasn't really caught up with changing cultural norms. When it comes to how a person's assets are passed on after death, Colorado law still sticks to a pretty old-fashioned view of what a family looks like.
What this means is that folks living in a blended or otherwise "nontraditional" family arrangement might not have their wishes carried out after death unless they've proactively put an estate plan into place. If you're in this position, here are a few things you should know:
- Estate planning protects the people you love: Like every state, Colorado has laws that govern what happens when a person dies without a will in place. This is called "intestate succession." Generally speaking, intestate succession transfers your estate to your closest living legal relative. This could mean your assets don't go to the people you'd prefer them to. For example, if you're not married to your partner, he or she might not be entitled to anything if you die without a will in place. Your stepchildren could also be at risk if you never legally adopted them.
- It's never too soon to start: It's impossible to know when your time will come - getting an estate plan in place early ensures that your wishes will be respected if something unexpected happens. Plus, you can always revise your plan if circumstances change. It's best to act right away, and to revisit your estate plan whenever your wishes or family composition change.
- Things might be complicated, and that's ok: Maybe you married someone with children, and you want your assets to go to your kids, but not theirs. Or perhaps you're in a same-sex relationship, but your family isn't supportive and you're worried about how they might act after you're gone. While every family has complicated dynamics, these are often amplified in blended and nontraditional arrangements. It's ok to be stressed by the situation, and it's ok to have conflicting emotions. At the end of the day, what matters is that your wishes - whatever they are - are carried out.
- The lawyer you choose matters: There are a lot of estate planning lawyers out there, but not all of them are equipped to handle the complicated arrangements that blended and nontraditional families require. A good lawyer will have the compassion and creativity needed to understand your family's unique needs and help you figure out the best ways to protect them. Make sure you've chose a lawyer who will really listen to you and respect your family's needs.
People in the greater Denver area can contact the Law Offices of Karen Brady, P.C. for help with comprehensive estate planning strategies. Our office has been helping blended and nontraditional families for over 20 years, and we offer free initial consultations to help you figure out your best plan for moving forward.