Who Gets What When You Have “Yours, Mine and Ours”?

By John M. Hartzell, Jr.

Whether you remember the original with Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball, or the remake with Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo, the movie "Yours, Mine and Ours" depicts the challenges of a "blended family". This term describes the situation in which one or both spouses have children from a prior marriage or relationship that ended in death or divorce.

While either movie is enjoyable to watch, neither provides insight on how to address the variety of inherent estate planning issues associated with a blended family-whose relationship is often tenuous at best. The factors and issues surrounding a blended family generally preclude a "simple" estate plan. The critical first step is to determine the spouses' goals and priorities, which usually include providing for the surviving spouse's economic needs while ensuring the children receive some inheritance from the deceased parent. However, if these issues are not addressed in a well-developed estate plan, the surviving spouse may find the family relationship jeopardized, or worse, become involved in litigation with his or her stepchildren.

For the security and protection of the blended family and its members, the spouses should consult with a trusted legal adviser on their estate planning matters early in the marriage, if not before the ceremony.