Divorce is more common than it was years ago, and so there are more blended families in the United States these days. After all, many people choose to remarry after a divorce, and that often means bringing children from a previous marriage into a newly blended family.
This blending can create a situation where there are step siblings and step parents who are both part of an estate plan. When one of the parents in a blended family dies, there are commonly disputes between the surviving spouse and the children of the deceased.
While you can't prevent your spouse and children from fighting with one another over your assets, you can use this information to make more careful decisions in the estate planning process.
The later in life you marry, the more likely a conflict
Sometimes, people divorce and remarry relatively young, perhaps while the children are not even in school yet. When this happens, the children have plenty of time to bond with their step parent and vice versa. However, for many families, divorce may happen later in the lives of the children. Remarriages subsequently take place even later.
Adult children are less likely to bond deeply with a stepparent. This could lead to conflict if the children are not happy with your estate plans. The larger the age gap, the more likely it is that your children or other people will view the younger spouse as opportunistic. This perception can alter how family members interact with one another and may result in serious acrimony during the estate administration process.
Children often expect larger portions of the estate than they receive
When a stepparent inherits a large portion of a deceased person's estate, the children of the deceased are likely to take issue with this. After all, the step parent will have come into the deceased life relatively recently, as opposed to the children, who have a lifelong relationship with the deceased. That longer chunk of time will lead children to expect that their parent will leave them more assets than they leave to their new spouse.
However, many couples feel like it is their duty to provide for one another, even after death. This can quickly escalate in to serious conflict. The more unbalanced the distribution in your estate plan, the more likely it will be for your family to wind up in probate court. Your best bet is to divide assets in a manner that is fair. You can provide for a spouse in your estate plan while still ensuring your children receive an inheritance.
Talking transparently with your family about your intentions is important as well. The more unequal an estate, the greater the risk of challenges. Also, the more surprised your family is about the contents of your last well, the more they may question your decisions.