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Blended families and asset transfer: the role of trusts

Divorce can greatly reshape a person's estate-planning priorities.

This is true regardless of whether someone gets remarried or not. After a divorce, the arrangements regarding leaving property to a spouse are naturally in need of revision.

This is particularly true when remarriage occurs and a new spouse enters the picture. And sometimes, upon remarriage, blended families are created in which both spouses have children from a previous marriage.

In this post, we will discuss some estate-planning basics for these families to keep in mind.

Of course, as with all types of estate planning, much depends on individual circumstances and goals. There can be many factors to weigh, starting with fair treatment for spouses and children in plans for the transfer of assets. Tax considerations are often involved in assessing the vehicles for doing this most effectively.

One commonly used vehicle is the creation of trusts. Indeed, some commentators believe that trusts are generally the most effective way to structure asset transfers when blended families are involved.

For one thing, trusts can be a flexible and efficient way to make sure that both a current spouse and children from a previous marriage are treated fairly.

To be sure, if there is a prenuptial agreement in place, that would be a different case.

But let's say there is no prenup and both spouses in a blended family have wills leaving their property to the survivor. The wills may specify that when the second spouse dies, the assets should go the children of each respective spouse.

Such an arrangement does not have the same ability as a trust to make sure that a distribution of property to the children in a fair manner actually occurs. This is because, with a will as opposed to a trust, the surviving spouse can always change his or her mind and made a new will.

Source: Green Bay Press Gazette, "Carissa Giebel column: Estate planning for blended families," Jan. 27, 2014

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