An estate plan has the potential to leave a legacy or to leave a legendary fight. When done correctly, the assets of one person will transition seamlessly to loved ones, next of kin and younger generations. When done haphazardly, it can spawn fights and rekindle old disputes, putting sibling against sibling, children against parents, and conflict among all manner of relationships.
Relationships are already complex in a blended family, where adult children may not be as close to their stepmother, or stepchildren may have never lived in the family home due to their age upon your remarriage or an agreement with their genetic parents. There are all manner of relationships: by blood, marriage and personal bond.
Unequal distribution is more common in blended families
Traditionally, many people minimize conflict among their heirs by leaving equal value to everyone. Recent studies show this is less common in blended families. In 1990, 15 percent of wills had unequal distribution, while that number jumped to 25 percent in 2010. Inequality is heavier in blended families for various reasons. Adding to the drama, one author says that half of disputes involve stepmothers and stepchildren.
Discussion of plans
While each family dynamic is different, the best way to reduce family fighting over inheritance is to discuss it with the executor and with family members in advance. When somebody talks over their plans, it also shares their reasoning and comes from a personal source. People respond better to hearing it from the source than through a legal document as they are already grieving with the loss of a loved one. This will also reduce the risk of a legal challenge of your will.
The simple fact is that leaving assets to children, stepchildren and a spouse is complicated, even if the assets are not. Even the most basic plan can lead to confusion, open old wounds or ignite new conflicts. An experienced estate planning attorney will create a reputable and official statement of your wishes, but their experience goes beyond legal documentation. They can also advise on what plan best suits your personal needs, including ways to protect your family from conflict.