If you’re in a second marriage or planning another trip down the aisle, it’s vital to review and revise (if necessary) your estate plan. You probably want to provide for your current spouse and not inadvertently benefit your former spouse. And if you have children from each marriage, juggling their interests can be a challenge. Let’s take a look at a few planning tips.
Have you updated your will, trusts, and beneficiary designations to name your current spouse where desired? Bear in mind that the terms of your divorce may require you to retain your former spouse as beneficiary of certain pension plans or retirement accounts.
Next, assess your financial situation and think about how you want to provide for various family members. For example, do you want to provide for all children equally? Will you favor biological children over stepchildren?
Also, are children from your first marriage significantly older than children from your second marriage? If so, their needs likely will be different. For example, if children from the first marriage are college age, in the short term they may need more financial support than children from your current marriage. On the other hand, if your older children are financially independent adults, they may need less help than your younger children.
Trusts generally avoid probate, so your assets can be distributed efficiently. However, if you leave your wealth to your current spouse outright, there’s nothing to prevent him or her from spending it all or leaving it to a new spouse, effectively disinheriting your children. To avoid this result, you can design a trust that provides income for your current spouse while preserving the principal for your children.
Trusts are particularly valuable if your children from a previous marriage are minors. Generally, if you leave assets to minors outright, they must be held in a conservatorship until the children reach the age of majority. It’s likely that your former spouse will be appointed conservator, gaining control over your wealth. Even though your former spouse will be obligated to act in your children’s best interests and will be supervised by a court, he or she will have considerable discretion over how your assets are invested and used.
To avoid this situation, consider establishing trusts for the benefit of your minor children. That way, a trustee of your choosing will manage the assets and control distributions to or on behalf of your children.
If you’re preparing for a second trip down the aisle or have recently wed for a second time, I can help you review and revise your estate plan. Contact me at SDitman@BerdonLLP.com or reach out to your Berdon advisor.
Scott T. Ditman, a tax partner and Chair, Personal Wealth Services at Berdon LLP, advises high net worth individuals and family/owner-managed business clients on building, preserving, and transferring wealth, estate and income tax issues, and succession and financial planning.