Have step-children or a step-parent? Are you one? How to avoid disinheriting your family

Estate planning presents unique issues for blended families.  Blended families are families in which one or both parents have children from a previous relationship.  The problem comes when one spouse dies without an estate plan, or an old or outdated one.  Generally, when spouses hold property in California (or anywhere in the US), they hold it in joint tenancy.  When one joint tenant dies, the other one gets the entire property.

Can you see where we’re going with this?

When one spouse of a blended family dies, then the other spouse generally gets all the property of the couple, often by default.  When it comes time to distribute the assets at the death of the second spouse, the second spouse can essentially disinherit the first spouse’s children.  The second spouse, with all the property in his/her name, has control over the ultimate disposition of the property.  If there is a family rift between the second spouse and the step-children, if the second spouse is negligent in creating an estate plan providing for the step-children, or in other cases, then the children of the first spouse to die can be left out in the cold.

Don’t leave your children out in the cold by failing to provide for them with an estate plan.

California divorce: “transition days” and how to ease the pain

My clients are always telling me how hard it is to deal with the day leading up to the transition of their children to the other parent’s home, and the first day back.  Children are often moody, acting out, angry, and difficult during these days.  This issue can be harder on step-parents, too. Too often, the parent blames the other parent for having a home that is dissimilar to their own, thinking that the problem is that the ex isn’t doing things the way he or she is “supposed” to.  Unfortunately, this is an issue that happens to nearly all children, in one form or another, and is simply a fact of life for divorcing parents and dual households. It doesn’t mean that either household is wrong, it’s just different.

And by the way, this does not mean that there aren’t circumstances where the other parent’s living situation is toxic and inappropriate.  Any kind of abuse or neglect needs to be reported immediately.

But in the absence of abuse or neglect, parents need to understand that their children are adjusting the best that they can, just as the parents are.  Being children, they do not have the coping skills that adults have, and need to be helped and supported through the transition.  Here are some ways to help both yourself and your family through these tough times.