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When might having a blended family lead to estate litigation?

As divorce in New Jersey and across the nation has become more commonplace, so do "blended" families. While a second marriage can bring much joy, sometimes having a blended family can become problematic. This can be the case when a parent dies, leaving behind a spouse, stepchildren and children from the parent's first marriage. Situations like this can lead to bitter feelings when it comes to a party's inheritance and could even lead to estate litigation.

For example, sometimes a person's second marriage doesn't last very long before the person dies. This means that any changes to an estate plan, along with changes as to who is a beneficiary, are still relatively new, especially if the person made these changes in their dying days. In these situations, the person's children from a first marriage may be at odds with the surviving stepparent, each believing they are due more from the person's estate.

Another example of a family dynamic that could lead to estate litigation is if a surviving stepparent favored the interests of his or her children from a first marriage over the interests of his or her stepchildren. For example, prior to the person's death, the stepparent may have been more inclined to give his or her biological children from a first marriage more in the way of loans and gifts than he or she would give his or her stepchildren. However, these favors may not be known to the person's children from a first marriage until after that person dies, leading to disputes.

Disputes can even arise when it comes to the burial or cremation of a person who during their lifetime divorced and married a second time. The surviving stepparent and the person's children from the first marriage may not agree on where the person should be buried, who should provide the headstone or who will retain the person's cremains.

These are only a few examples of disputes that could arise between stepparents and stepchildren after a person's death. It can behoove stepparents and stepchildren who have disagreements regarding a person's estate to try to reach a resolution early in order to avoid the financial stress and heartache estate litigation could cause.

Source: Forbes, "Stepmothers: The Cause Of So Many Estate Fights," Michael Hackard, Jan. 23, 2018

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J. Jeffrey Press, P.A.
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