Wills for Blended Families

The aim in writing a will is to ensure that everyone you care for gets a fair and reasonable share of your assets when you die. The usual way is a simple mirror will in which you leave everything to your spouse or partner, with the provision that on the death of the spouse/partner those assets are distributed to your children.

It sounds relatively easy but can become complicated when you have a blended family with children from a previous relationship – stepchildren. This means that in structuring your will you need to ensure that the wellbeing of your respective children is adequately covered, and everyone is treated fairly.

Blended families without a will in place are more at risk of facing legal and financial quagmire when a family member dies. If you have children from a previous relationship, who looks after them when you die? It could be your current spouse/partner, their biological parent, or another family member or guardian? Will stepsiblings live together, or go their separate ways?

A big consideration for couples with these families is how to ensure their respective children are not left out and that all parties are treated fairly.

If you have not made a will then you are deemed to be ‘intestate’ and set rules apply. In the case of a married couple the assets of the deceased generally pass to the spouse. When the spouse dies these assets go to their children only and NOT the stepchildren. If they are not married it gets more complicated.

A simple mirror will works as long as the parties stick together and assumes that the surviving partner does not change their will, remarry or become fall out with your children; and those are just the more obvious complexities.

There are solutions like a “Life Interest Trust” which allows your spouse/partner to benefit from your assets while they are alive, but not own them. So the assets can be designated to be available for your children, or whoever else you want to care for, on the death of the spouse/partner.

The whole issue comes down to getting professional advice from a solicitor with experience in this area of the law. A recent interview on Radio New Zealand covered aspects of the need for blended families to make such arrangements. Go to: https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/audio/2018916252/blended-families-urged-to-sort-their-wills

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