Blended Families

“Well of course my spouse gets everything! I don’t need a will.” Not so fast!

It is not automatic that you get everything should your spouse die before you. If your spouse was married before and has children from that previous marriage, then those children may have a rights to some of your spouse’s estate. In Utah, if one spouse dies who was married previously and has children from the prior marriage, then the surviving current spouse is only entitled to $75,000 plus 1/2 of the remaining assets. Everything else goes to the children from the previous marriage (any children from the current marriage would get nothing and instead inherit through the surviving spouse when that person passes away).

For example, let’s say Jack and Jill get married. Jill was married before and has 2 children from her previous marriage. Jack and Jill have one more child together. Jack and Jill own the family home as joint-tenants. The home is worth $200,000.00. Jill also has another $125,000.00 in personal property (car, inheritance from parents, jewelry, etc. It can add up fast!).

Jill is in a car accident and dies without having a will. The value of her estate at the time of her death is $325,000.00. Jack gets the home without going through probate because it was owned as joint-tenants. However, just as the entire worth of the home was added to the value of Jill’s estate, the entire worth of the home is counted as an advance to Jack of his inheritance. So Jack is entitled to $75,000 + 1/2 of $250,000 (the remaining balance of the estate’s value). That works out to $75,000 + $125,000 for a total of $200,000. But that is not how much Jack gets. Because the home is valued at $200,000, an amount equal to his share of Jill’s estate, Jack gets the home and nothing else. The $125,000 in additional personal property all goes to Jill’s children from her previous marriage.

Additionally, because no will was made, if Jill’s children from her previous marriage are still minors, their father now gets custody of the children and Jack may have to give the wife’s ex all of her personal property because it all belongs to those children and he has custody of them. The child from Jack and Jill’s current marriage inherits nothing.

This situation could all have been avoided if Jill had a simple will or even a trust. A simple will or a living trust could have let Jill determine how much each of her children would inherit in the event of her death. It could also designate who would control that property until the children reached the age of majority.

No blended family should ever be without a will or living trust. No matter how little or how much property one has, a will or living trust is a basic estate planning document everyone should have.

The information presented here is not meant to be legal advice. Every situation is different and unique. You should consult directly with an attorney to determine your estate planning needs. Review of this material does not create an attorney-client relationship with The Law Firm of Darrin K. Johns, PC, or with any attorney or employee thereof.

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