In Australia today about one in 10 couples with dependent children are part of a blended family or step-family*, these families need to take extra consideration when it comes to estate planning and making a will.
Markus Christmann legal practitioner director at Asquith Legal said, "Estate planning can be particularly complex for blended families, where couples bring children from previous relationships into the new relationship.
"In such cases, the legal framework around inheritance and property division can be difficult to navigate, and emotions can run high if clear plans are not in place.
"I help blended families to find a balance and to ensure that children from a first marriage do not miss out while limiting the risk of costly estate litigation."
Asquith Legal, based in Wollongong, is a boutique firm specialising in all aspects of wills and estates including blended family estate planning, probate, estate litigation, asset protection and assisting executors.
Markus started the firm in July 2020 and has a Master of Laws in Wills & Estates from the College of Law.
Along with the rise of blended families in Australia, there has also been a sharp increase in the number of contested wills largely due to children in blended families missing out.
"One of the most common situations we see is where children from a first marriage miss out when assets are divided," Markus said.
"Many people do not understand that once they die, their surviving partner is free to do what they like with any assets they are left."
A primary consideration for blended families is to ensure that all parties are fairly provided for and to balance the interest of the surviving (new) spouse against the children from the previous relationship. This can be achieved through various strategies, such as:
Some families look at trust structures, where the surviving spouse gets the use and enjoyment of assets such as property while they are alive, then the assets within the trust pass to specified beneficiaries, such as adult children or grandchildren.
"Trusts allow individuals to allocate assets to specific beneficiaries and can provide greater flexibility than traditional wills," Markus said.
"Trusts can also be updated as circumstances change, making them an attractive option for blended families."
Families may also consider other estate planning strategies, such as life insurance, which can provide financial support for surviving family members. Life insurance policies can be used to pay off debts, cover funeral costs and provide ongoing income for beneficiaries.
"Ultimately, the most important thing for blended families is to have a clear plan in place that takes into account all of the relevant legal and financial considerations," Markus said.
It is essential to work with a qualified and experienced estate planning lawyer like Markus at Asquith Legal to ensure that all options are explored and that all parties are fairly provided for.
With the right approach, blended families can navigate the complexities of estate planning and ensure that their assets are distributed in accordance with their wishes.
For more information call (02) 4208 0403 or visit asquithlegal.com.au.
*Australian Institute of Family Studies