Jun 01, 2009

Estate Planning -- the Second Time Around

A second or third marriage, seasoned by age and experience, can bring wonderful comfort and intimacy -- but it can raise a host of legal and practical questions as well. For example, when it comes to making a will and other estate planning arrangements, how can you be fair to everyone you care about in your complicated blended family -- your current spouse, any younger children from your current marriage, your children from previous marriages and your stepchildren all need to be considered.

Who knew balancing the disparate needs of so many people could be so practically and psychologically difficult? And where is the instruction manual which will help you accomplish it?

Start by dividing your task into three steps, your first -- identifying your goals -- being the hardest. For example, if you still have minor children, your first goal might be to provide for them until they reach adulthood. And, of course, it's likely you'll have more than one goal -- perhaps the ongoing care of a special needs child and providing adequate income for a surviving spouse are goals two and three. 

Once your major goals are identified, step two is to discover the legal tools and techniques you'll need to best accomplish them. For example, if you have minor children, you'll need to adopt one of several mechanisms such as a child's trust or the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act to name a financial manager if you die before they are of age.

Step three is to use either self-help tools like Nolo's Online Will and Living Trust or a lawyer (or often a cost-effective combination of the two) to carry out your plans.

Of course, saying all this is far easier than doing it, which is why I strongly recommend Nolo's new book, Estate Planning for Blended Families, by Attorney Richard Barnes. There is simply no comparable source of reliable information for people who need to make an estate plan that balances the needs of a complicated, multi-generational family.