Recently, a new study showed that less than half of American households – 48 percent, to be exact – were married households. Less than half – that’s interesting and also raises a number of other questions. Up until the past two or so decades, family life was quite predictable: opposite gender parents, two and half kids, maybe a dog, a double car garage and ideally, a week during the summer at the beach.
It’s safe to say, then, that not only was the Leave it to Beaver family of days past not realistic (as no one expected), but that it’s so far removed from reality for a contemporary society that few can even relate to any semblance of that image. Indeed, Ward Cleaver’s estate planning efforts were (even in TV land) far simpler too. Forget traditional, predictable and straightforward; these days, clients need more – and different when it comes to preparing for their future and putting together an estate plan that addresses the needs of a modern family.
Marry Me…For Now
Trying to hone in on the exact numbers associated with divorce is challenging, but it’s safe to say that the divorce rate hovers near the 50 percent mark. And with half of these marriages ending, there are typically remarriages that follow. Parenting is another story.
Nearly 1.5 million babies a year are born to unmarried women. This accounts for more than a third of all births. To say this can complicate matters is an understatement, especially when fathers are not identified, the mother opts to use donated sperm, if the father passed away before the baby was born or if the mother is unsure of who the father is and is content with leaving it that way. It also means, too, that instead of two parents with the shared goal of raising a healthy and happy child, there could be only a mother or father. It’s especially important to plan for the child should the mother die before her child reaches adulthood.
As more states begin to legalize same sex marriage, some of these issues may become a bit more simplified so that they mirror those of opposite sex marriages: two committed people with the same goals of building their life, their marriage and their family. As we know, there is no marriage that can boast perfection; it’s close for those who are happy, but none are without their challenges, especially when children become part of the family unit.
Estate Planning No Matter the Family Dynamic
So what should you be thinking about? If you’re unmarried or have children you’ve not yet adopted, remember that the law doesn’t protect them. Remember the rules of intestacy: if you die without a will, the state’s laws determine who receives what and that means nothing for partners and children you’ve not legally adopted. Be sure you address these issues with properly executed trusts and powers of attorney.
If you have remarried, odds are you have this vision of a beautifully seamless transition as you and your spouse combine families. That’s not always the case. Sometimes, new family members just don’t bond well. If things are uncomfortable now, imagine the level of discomfort it will bring for those you love most should you die without addressing these dynamics with your estate plan. Even if life is full of roses and gold paved roads with plenty of love, put those legalities in place so that what you and your spouse worked to secure remains in place.
Finally and as unpleasant as it must surely seem, don’t underestimate the power of a prenup. Yes, it’s not part of that rose and gold paving, but it can sure make life a lot easier as you go about the business of rebuilding your own version of happily ever after – whatever it may look like to you.
To learn more about estate planning for your traditional – or not – family, contact our offices today.
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