Within the United States, the familial structure has never been so complex. Among those Americans who do marry, roughly 50 percent will eventually divorce; however, many of these divorcees will marry again. A 2013 report by the Pew Research Center revealed that four out of every 10 new marriages involves at least one individual who was previously married. Adding to the complexity of the modern family structure in the U.S. are statistics from the Centers for Disease and Prevention, which show that nearly 41 percent of births in the U.S. are to unwed mothers.

Combined; divorces, remarriages and births to unwed mothers have changed the face of the traditional U.S. family. Today parents, step-parents, significant others, children, stepchildren and many different combinations in-between make taking steps to establish a comprehensive estate plan more important than ever.

Depending on an individual’s specific situation and personal estate planning goals, he or she may need an estate plan that helps provide for a current spouse, children from a previous marriage, step-children with a current spouse and a current spouse’s children from a previous marriage. As with any estate planning decisions, to provide for loved ones and avoid potential future legal disputes, it’s crucial that an individual take time to seriously contemplate how assets should be distributed upon one’s death.

Under New York State law, a spouse is entitled to one-third of a deceased spouse’s estate. If an individual wants to reduce this amount, he or she must clearly outline one’s wishes using specific legal strategies. For example, a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement may be used to waive a current spouse’s rights to his or her legal share of an estate. It’s important to note, however, that a spouse must still receive some portion of an estate.

In our next blog post, we’ll continue to discuss some of the estate planning challenges that individual’s in blended families may face as well as potential solutions to those challenges.

Source: Westfair Communications, “Column: Blended families need estate planning,” Westfair Online, Dec. 4, 2015