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Estate planning for blended families

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As a blended family, you're no stranger to the unique nuances and complexities that come with bringing together chlldren from a previous (and sometimes your current) marriage. How you'll leave behind your money and assets can be an especially tricky web to untangle. That's what makes a thoughtful estate strategy such a proactive—and necessary—tool in helping your loved ones avoid probate, confusion and conflict. Here's what to keep in mind.

Challenges of blended family estate planning

You and your spouse may have had separate estate strategies in place before you married. But the wills, trusts, life insurance and other important documents you set up before may no longer fit your new circumstances.

Blended families can face several potential challenges with estate planning, so it's important to revisit your plans soon after getting married. If you leave an existing will in place that leaves everything to your ex-spouse, your new spouse and any stepchildren may not have any rights to your assets. Or if you and your spouse live in a home you placed in a trust with your ex-spouse and you didn't update it after the new marriage, your current spouse could be left without a home upon your death.

Updating your estate documents now so they meet your family's needs and goals can save a lot of time and trouble later.

Dividing assets in a second marriage or blended family

Deciding how to divide assets in your estate plan takes careful thought. Your ultimate goal is to ensure everyone is cared for and protected should you or your spouse pass away. Doing so can be challenging, though, because of the unique dynamic of a blended family. You may have children from your previous marriage, stepchildren from your spouse's previous marriage, and new children together. Your situation will factor into how you lay out your estate plan.

You can set up your distribution of assets in any way that suits your needs and goals. Some people treat the assets that each spouse brought to the marriage separately from the assets that were accumulated together as a way of deciding which family members get what. This path may involve a prenuptial agreement, where each spouse agrees before marriage how any inheritance would unfold. Others would prefer all pre- and post-marital assets be shared and split evenly among all heirs, or want a trust to distribute assets.

Ultimately, it's up to you and your spouse and what's best for your family. But knowing all your options is the first step to creating a plan.

As life changes, life insurance needs do, too

When you become a blended family, you may want to revisit your life insurance. Here are some questions to ask yourself and your family.

Reevaluate your coverage needs

Estate planning strategies for blended families

An estate plan has many components. Considering each of them and their implications can help you determine the best solution for you and your loved ones.


When you and your spouse create wills, you can set up specific inheritances for your previous and joint children, and for each other. You can also name guardians for minor children and an executor who will be responsible for carrying out your wishes.


Trusts generally provide more flexibility than other estate planning options. They allow you to control what each family member inherits and when they get it. Many parents use trusts to ensure young children don't fully inherit assets until they can make wise decisions. Living trusts, marital trusts and family trusts are all options to consider when working on your family's financial strategy.

Life insurance

Life insurance can be an important part of a blended family's estate plan. If you have a life insurance contract, confirm you've named the proper beneficiaries so they are sure to get the funds upon your passing.

Real estate deeds

Many married couples own property with a right of survivorship, meaning if one spouse dies, the other automatically becomes the sole owner of the property. In the case of a new marriage, you may want to update the existing deed to add your new spouse for existing property or use a similar type of deed when buying property together so this automatic transfer can take place.

Another option is to set up property so the surviving spouse gets a life estate—the right to live there for the rest of their life—with the property going to their children upon death.

Retirement accounts

Current spouses often inherit 401(k) accounts as the default beneficiary, but for all types of retirement accounts, it's a good idea to specifically name your beneficiaries. That way, it's clear which of your loved ones are to receive your retirement savings when you pass away.

Bank accounts

You can set up bank accounts as "payable upon death," meaning any funds left in your account will directly transfer to whomever you name upon your death, avoiding probate.

Updating existing estate plans

If you and your spouse came to the marriage with estate plans, you have a great baseline you can use to create an updated strategy. Estate planning for your blended family is ideally done as part of your wedding planning, but many couples don't get to this until after they've tied the knot, and that's OK.

To update your estate plan, you may want to:

  • Add codicils to existing wills or create new wills.
  • Revise existing trusts and/or create new ones.
  • Reconsider your life insurance beneficiaries and consider if you need more insurance.

When revising your wills, think about whether you want to add new beneficiaries, change beneficiaries or change your executor. You may also decide to adjust the bequests in the will.

Keep your plans updated as your family evolves

No matter what type of estate strategy you create, remember that it's not a set-it-and-forget-it situation. Your estate plan should change as your family evolves. New children may come into the family, or you might welcome grandchildren. So update your estate plan regularly to meet all your family's needs when the time comes.

For personalized guidance on setting up an estate plan with a blended family, reach out to a Thrivent financial advisor near you.

Thrivent and its financial advisors and professionals do not provide legal, accounting or tax advice. Consult your attorney or tax professional.

If requested, a licensed insurance agent/producer may contact you and financial solutions, including insurance may be solicited.