A Word About Blended Families

Today, I’m answering a question from a reader.

Q: We have a blended family with grown children that are my husband’s, mine, and ours together.  We are long retired, the children are grown, and we know it is time to make some serious decisions about our estate and division of heirlooms.  For years, two of our children have been bickering over one piece in particular.  Naturally we want to be fair, but I think our biggest concern is if one of the children gets an heirloom that doesn’t really belong to them because they are not from that side of the family.  How can we handle this delicately?

A: About 40% of my clients have challenges with their blended family and personal property distribution.  Here are a few basic guidelines; stick with these.

Though children grow into adults, they still need our guidance.  At this stage, it is vital that you provide your children with precise directions for the time of your death.  Offer your children your last wishes, documents regarding heirlooms, Last Will and Testament, Living Will, Health Care Power of Attorney, etc.  An attorney can help you prepare these documents, which are absolutely necessary.

As for heirlooms, engage in a frank discussion with your husband first.  Pull out a notepad and write down all of your decisions regarding all of your children and what you think each one should have.  Remember, if you do this for one child, you must do it for all of them.  It might be wise to enlist the help of an appraiser/personal property expert to help you ascertain the values of these possessions to keep the distribution financially equivalent for each child.

Keep a spreadsheet naming each child, then list the heirlooms that belong to each “bloodline”.  Next, call a family meeting with you, your husband, and your children only — No spouses of the children should be present.  It is best to do this in person, otherwise, make individual phone calls.  Share with your children your wishes and that you have documented who gets what and their current monetary values.

Make sure each child gets a copy of this document and make it very clear that there will be no feuding because these are your wishes and decisions.

Many clients leave it at that, which I do not recommend.  My suggestion is to arrange the transfer of that heirloom to the children while you are alive.  This way, fewer “mistakes” can happen after your death, and you will know everyone got everything you wanted them to have.  Peace of mind is a beautiful thing!

© 2010 Julie Hall