Blended families, unmarried couples, assistive reproductive technology (ART) and same-sex unions and marriages challenge the traditional concept of “family” as it’s been known for legal purposes up until now.
Significant changes in the way we define family culturally means more families are left without the valuable protection they need, in the event of a death or incapacity of a loved one.
As these legal definitions and our personal situations expand, so do the priorities of the modern estate plan.
No longer is estate planning just for the wealthy, who wish to save money on their taxes; it’s for all of us who want to ensure our legal system recognizes the one’s we love.
For example, if you are in a life partnership (or more than one), married in the eyes of your community, but not married in the eyes of the law, your partner would have no legal right to see you or make decisions on your behalf, if you were hospitalized.
Even if you are married, your spouse or partner would not be able to access your financial accounts, without court intervention, without proper legal planning in advance. And, if you are not married, the Court is unlikely to give a non-legal spouse access and would instead appoint a professional fiduciary before allowing your unmarried partner access.
If you are part of a blended family (meaning one or both spouses have children from a prior relationship) or have children who aren’t biologically both yours and your spouse’s (or non-spouse partner), you need to include provisions in your estate plan that clearly define the inheritance rights of all children, biological or not.
It is vitally important that you clearly define any legally established relationships between you, your spouse (or non-spouse partners and loved ones) and your children, biological or otherwise, to ensure your wishes will be carried out in the event of your death or incapacity. If you do not do this, your kids could end up in the care of someone you would never want and taken out of the home of the non-biological parent they are living with.
Whatever your family’s configuration may be, estate planning is your chance to safeguard the people you love and your assets on your own terms and according to your own definitions. With the uncertainty of the current political and social climate, developing a carefully crafted plan tailored to your family’s needs is more important than ever.
If you need help crafting estate-planning instruments that adequately protect your family and your wealth but are flexible enough to be relevant as our legal definitions of family change, start by coming in to meet with us for a Family Wealth Planning Session. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can guide you in creating a comprehensive estate plan that protects and preserves your family’s values, as well as your assets. Before the session, we’ll send you a Family Wealth Inventory and Assessment™ to complete that will get you thinking about what you own, what matters most to you and what you want to leave behind and ensure that none of your assets are lost to the Court or government processes that don’t really serve your desires.