With divorce and remarriage rates as high as they are in the United States, blended families – those in which one or both spouses have children from a prior relationship – have become increasingly common. According to some estimates, they may even outnumber traditional nuclear families.


While blended families can and often do thrive harmoniously, the complexities of the relationships between members of blended families can lead to complications where estate issues are concerned – especially when a parent or stepparent dies without a will or has not updated his or her will to reflect changing family circumstances.

With certain exceptions, when a married person in California dies intestate (without a will), the property and assets that he or she acquired during the marriage will pass to the surviving spouse. Generally, the spouse will also receive between one-half and one-third of the deceased person’s separately owned property, with the remaining portion going to the children of the deceased parent. These laws make it easy to disinherit one’s children inadvertently by putting off estate planning until it is too late.


If you have remarried after having children in a previous relationship, don’t assume that your new spouse will pass your assets on to your biological children if he or she outlives you. Your spouse may decide to leave everything to his or her own children, or may remarry and leave the entire estate to the new spouse. If your spouse is significantly younger than you, he or she may even outlive your own children, leaving them with no opportunity to inherit.

Additional problems may arise if your ex-spouse is not properly disinherited from your estate, since he or she may receive a portion of your assets and fail to share them with your children or spouse from a later marriage.

No matter how close-knit your family, misunderstandings and disputes arise easily in matters of inheritance, often disrupting family dynamics in ways that can never be undone. The best way to provide for your loved ones and help preserve their relationships is to make your wishes clear in your estate plan. For more information about estate planning for blended families, discuss your situation with an experienced estate planning attorney.