If ABC’s Emmy-award winning TV show, Modern Family, can teach us anything about estate planning, it’s that the definition of a traditional nuclear family has been stretched considerably in the last quarter century. The show spoofs nonconventional family dynamics that mirror the blended families – like second marriages, same-sex couples and adopted children — that are found throughout contemporary society.
By Stephen K Lehnardt
The “family tree” is a wonderful little metaphor. More than that, however, the family tree is the basis of the body of laws surrounding family, estates, and probate (with equal metaphorical oomph, see “per stirpes”).
For better or for worse, the “modern family” is not the same as the well-tended tree of former times, and those old legal definitions just are not cutting it these days. For the modern family, there simply has to be a bit more planning to get it right.
So, what is the modern family and how do we even begin to get things right these days? That is an ever-evolving ambiguity. Recently, Barron’s Penta took a shot at the topic in a recent article titled “Estate Planning for Modern Families.”
Modern families are breaking down boundaries and pulling “branches” together and apart too fast for the legal system to figure it out. The original article appeals to the ABC show of the same name, Modern Family. However, a healthy jumping off point comes from the U.S. Census Bureau. It found that in 30% of all marriages at least one spouse had previously been married, bringing along assets, retirement accounts and kids. In other words, there are lots of “blended families” (i.e., families composed of greater and lesser proportions of blood relationship through divorce, remarriage, adoption, and more)! Adding to the complexity, in many portions of the country a modern family may be the result of same-sex marriage and same-sex couples adopting.
If your family tree would take some artistry to draw out – and some of the best ones do – then so too should your estate plans.
So how do you do that? The original article has some ideas, but since your family is unique consider them guidelines. With the assistance of an experienced estate planner you can come to a careful, tailored plan for all of your loved ones.
Reference: Barron’s Penta (October 14, 2013) “Estate Planning for Modern Families”