Chances are, you or someone you know is part of a blended family. Fully 42% of adults in the U.S. now have some kind of step-relationship, according to Pew Research. That’s over 95 million people.

For the millions of divorced, widowed, and remarried Americans out there, estate planning is extra tricky. In a blended family situation, there are more opportunities to get it wrong, and the stakes—ensuring your current spouse is taken care of or that your children and stepchildren are treated according to your wishes—are often higher.

Additionally, spouses—current, former, or both—may not see eye-to-eye on key decisions. Who takes care of the kids if one parent dies? Which assets belong to which spouse? Working through these details can not only avoid future estate planning hassles but also help maintain healthy relationships between all parties involved.

To get started, work through these questions:

* What do you want to happen when you die?
* Who do you want to make decisions for you, if you can’t make them for yourself?
* Who will provide for your kids?
* Who will take over as guardian for any minor children when you die? Do the kids get a say?
* What are you going to do for your surviving spouse? How do you want to provide for them? Do you want to give them broad decision-making authority or would you rather limit it?
* Do you and your present and/or former spouse have shared objectives?
* Will you need two separate lawyers to handle your plans?
* How open are you willing to be in the planning conversation with a past and/or present spouse and a lawyer?
* Do you live in a community property state?

When you sit down to think about these matters, keep in mind any wealth or age disparities between yourself and any future or former spouses. If remarrying, do you need a prenuptial agreement? If there’s a big age difference, who’s more likely to die first?

Once you’ve decided what you’d like to see happen, it’s important to work with a lawyer to formalize and structure your plans. Free online services are not sophisticated enough to deal with the complexities of blended family estate planning, Additionally, it’s important to work with an experienced estate planning lawyer who has worked with blended families before.

A good, foundational estate plan can be costly, but it’s a bargain when you consider the benefits. Planning not only gives you peace of mind about what will happen to your assets when you’re gone but also allows you to preserve the peace with loved ones now.

If we can be of service to you and your family, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to set up an appointment today.