I was reading an article in The Atlantic the other day, and it got me thinking about estate planning and why it’s so important – especially for non-traditional families.
It’s no secret that the traditional family dynamic has changed drastically over the past few decades. We’re now seeing more and more nontraditional families – single parents, same-sex couples, blended families, etc. – and as a result, estate planning has become more important than ever.
Why is that? Well, for one thing, inheritance laws in the United States are based on the idea of a nuclear family – a mother, a father, and their children. But so many families don’t fit that description in modern society.
What about unmarried couples, or couples who have children from previous relationships? What about LGBTQ+ families or parents with stepchildren?
That’s why it’s so essential for non-traditional families to have a well-thought-out estate plan, including a will and trust. Without these legal documents, things can get very complicated – and even contentious – very quickly.
So often in my practice, I see families who have neglected to do proper estate planning for one reason or another, and it almost always ends up causing problems down the road. In some cases, loved ones are left out entirely; in others, there are heated battles over who gets what.
No one enjoys talking about their death or the death of their loved ones. Still, families must have these conversations and put things in writing before it’s too late.
If you die without a will or trust in place, your assets will be distributed according to intestate succession laws. In most states, the hierarchy of inheritance goes as follows
- Your legal spouse
- Your biological (or legally adopted) children
- Your biological parents
- Your biological siblings
Very few states give any assets or inheritance to nonmarried or non-biological relatives without a will in place. This can cause problems for non-traditional families, who may not fit neatly into that model. For example, partners who aren’t legally married have no protections regarding inheritance. Instead, everything goes to blood relatives, even if the couple has been together for decades and raised children together.
Do you have children from a previous marriage? If you don’t have a will explicitly naming them as beneficiaries, they may also be cut out of your estate. Instead, your assets will go to your current legal spouse. And if your spouse chooses to remarry and later passes away, your remaining assets will go to their new spouse, not your children.
The same goes for LGBTQ+ families. If you are in a same-sex relationship, your partner is not automatically entitled to any of your assets if you die without a will – unless you’re legally married.
And suppose you’ve raised a non-biological child, which happens quite often when grandparents or other family members receive guardianship of a child. In that case, there are no laws guaranteeing that child a share of your estate (unless you go through the lengthy process of legal adoption). You would need to set up a trust specifically for that child’s benefit to ensure they are financially taken care of after you’re gone.
It’s important to plan for what will happen to your assets when you die, regardless of your family situation. Estate planning is not only for the wealthy, and it’s certainly not just for people with traditional families. Everyone can and should benefit from having a will and trust in place.
Everyone has something to pass on to their loved ones – a home, a savings account, a life insurance policy, or simply items of sentimental value.
If you have any questions about estate planning or setting up a will or trust, please don’t hesitate to contact me by email or phone at (240) 778-2330 or (703) 536-0220. I have assisted more than a thousand non-traditional families in the DC area with their estate planning needs, and I’d be more than happy to learn more about your family and unique situation to help you put together a plan that makes sense for everyone involved. In addition, I’ve helped many traditional families with this type of work as well.