Four Estate Planning Steps to Promote Peace in Blended Families

The unique dynamics involved when a family includes biological children, ex-spouses and stepchildren mean it’s even more important to communicate and plan.

A blended family smiles and laughs together at a family barbecue.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Estate planning is an important aspect of securing the financial future of your loved ones. However, when it comes to blended families, navigating the complexities of estate planning becomes even more critical. Blended families, where individuals bring children from previous relationships into a new family, often require careful consideration to ensure fair distribution and to keep the peace.

Blended families present unique dynamics that can complicate the estate planning process. Unlike traditional families, where assets like the family home are typically passed down to biological children, blended families involve stepchildren, ex-spouses and other varying family structures. The family dynamics can prove challenging for even the most understanding of families.

For example, how will Dad’s biological children feel about their stepmother getting part of their inheritance? Or consider a remarriage later in life when all the adult children are grown. Often, failing to plan or creating an inadequate plan can unintentionally completely disinherit biological children, leaving everything to adult stepchildren instead.

Subscribe to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance

Be a smarter, better informed investor.

Save up to 74%

Sign up for Kiplinger’s Free E-Newsletters

Profit and prosper with the best of expert advice on investing, taxes, retirement, personal finance and more - straight to your e-mail.

Profit and prosper with the best of expert advice - straight to your e-mail.

Sign up

1. Start with open and honest communication.

One of the first steps in navigating estate planning for blended families is open and honest communication. It is essential for all family members, including stepparents, stepchildren and biological children, to express their wishes and concerns. This dialogue helps in understanding each person's perspective and lays the foundation for a comprehensive estate plan that considers everyone's needs. 

To be fair, not all family dynamics will allow for this type of transparent communication. It is a difficult conversation. However, failing to let family members know your wishes can wreak havoc once you pass away.

2. Review and update beneficiaries.

A critical aspect of estate planning is reviewing and updating beneficiary designations on life insurance policies, retirement accounts and other financial assets. 

Failure to update these designations can lead to unintended consequences, such as assets going to an ex-spouse, or stepchildren being excluded. 

Regularly reviewing and adjusting beneficiary designations ensures that assets are distributed according to your current wishes.

3. Create a will and trust.

Drafting a clear and comprehensive will is essential for individuals in blended families. A will allows you to specify how you want your assets distributed and who will be responsible for managing your estate. In the case of blended families, a trust can also be a valuable tool. Trusts provide flexibility in distributing assets and can include provisions for stepchildren, ensuring they are treated fairly alongside biological children.

In blended families, stepchildren may not have legal rights to inherit from their stepparent unless specified in the estate plan. Including provisions for stepchildren in the will or trust can help ensure they are not unintentionally disinherited. This may involve specifying a percentage of assets or providing for them in a similar manner as biological children.

4. Account for other financial obligations.

Many individuals in blended families may have financial commitments to their ex-spouses, such as alimony or child support. It is crucial to account for these obligations in the estate plan to prevent conflicts and legal issues. Clearly outlining any financial responsibilities in the plan ensures that the intended beneficiaries receive their rightful share without interference.

Estate planning for blended families requires careful consideration, open communication and proactive decision-making. By addressing the unique dynamics of blended families through clear documentation, updated beneficiary designations and a frequent review of the estate plan, individuals can ensure that their assets are distributed according to their wishes, promoting harmony among family members. Taking the time to navigate these complexities now can provide peace of mind and financial security for the blended family in the future.

Related Content


This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Justin Stivers, Esq.
CEO, Stivers Law

Justin Stivers is the founder and CEO of Stivers Law, a distinguished Miami-based law firm specializing in wealth and estate planning. With almost a decade of expertise, Justin is dedicated to ensuring that clients' estate plans seamlessly align with their financial aspirations through comprehensive wealth planning. Beyond estate planning, Stivers Law excels in probate and trust administration, elder law, Medicaid planning and special needs planning.