As families continue to change and evolve, so do estate planning policies. In 2019, when we discuss estate planning, we must account for a broader definition of family than ever before. Here are several issues to look out for when planning for the future.


Marriage: The first issue concerns marriage; specifically, who is a Spouse and whether or not a person is legally married.  Legal  marriage is usually determined in accordance with  state law. In New York, there is no common law marriage, so simply cohabitating with someone for many years will not qualify that person for any Spousal benefits. There are plenty of financial benefits of having a legal Spouse, including state inheritance rights of intestacy, federal estate tax exemption, state estate tax exemption, state right of election, and Social Security survival benefits.

Nevertheless, unmarried cohabitating couples are one of the fastest growing types of households in the United States, regardless of age. People are increasingly  reluctant to become legally married for a variety of reasons. As such, planning must address advanced directives (power of attorney and health care proxy), asset distribution in case of death, personal possessions, ability to live in a primary residence after a partner’s death, and jointly held property.


Children: The second  issue concerns who can be called a Child. Children now include biological children born prior to the death of a person (unless parental rights have been forfeited), adopted children, and posthumous children conceived and born using a deceased person’s genetic material.


Blended Families: The  third issue is planning for blended families. Married couples comprise only 52% of all households now, down from 72% in 1960. Approximately 50% of marriages in the United States currently end in divorce. Over 42% of people report having at least one step relative. Specific issues that must be addressed include pre- and post-nuptial agreements which limit the new spouse’s right of inheritance, support of stepchildren, support of a new spouse while providing for children of a prior marriage, estate equalization amongst children from various marriages, addressing the age gap amongst children, preserving heirlooms for blood families, and hedging bets in case a new union does not work out.


Beneficiary Designations: Other aspects that must be addressed include carefully reviewing beneficiary designations on all financial forms (life insurance, retirement accounts, and pension accounts). Some states automatically terminate a former spouse as a beneficiary, but others do not. For most families, having a conversation about the various available estate planning options can be extremely useful in avoiding probate and future litigation.


Contact us if you want to discuss these or any other aspects of your estate planning.