Estate Planning for the Blended Family

Estate planning can be complex for even a simple family profile. When you have a family with his children, her children, and their children, estate planning can become very complex. We refer to these types of families as "blended families".

We see many types of blended families. In some cases mature individuals marry at a time when they both have adult children. Often each spouse's children hardly know the other children and sometimes know them by name only. In other cases the parties marry at a time when one or both of them have very young children. We sometimes see these couples after the children have grown. It is not uncommon in these situations for both spouses to look at both their children as their own. The point is, blended families come in an infinite variety of mixes.

We often see substantial conflict in blended families after the death of one of the parents. This is particularly true where the parents have failed to establish a carefully thought out estate plan. We have been involved in many of these situations that could have been avoided with a well designed estate plan.

This raises the point that estate planning is not a one time effort. Rather, estate planning is an ongoing process as a person or a couple proceed through life. When we purchase a home and the closing agent asks "in whose name or names do you want to take title" we are faced with an estate planning issue. Do we take title as joint tenants so that the survivor automatically inherits the home? Do we take title in the name of our trust? Do we put our spouses or our children's names on our financial accounts? Who do we name as beneficiary in our insurance or annuity policies? These are all estate planning questions.

While it is very important that the answers to these and similar questions be considered in advance and in light of our ongoing estate planning process, it is even more critical in the case of blended families..

How Art Can Help the Aging Brain

Most of us have witnessed the memory loss that often comes with aging. One person in five will suffer from Dementia. Dementia is a general term often used to describe more severe forms of memory loss and other defects in thinking skills. Alzheimer's disease is a severe form of dementia. According to the Alzheimer's Association, a person suffering from dementia must have trouble with at least two of the following: memory, language, attention, reasoning and visual perception.

Recent studies and observations have demonstrated that art experiences can override the stresses of memory loss and elevate a person's mood, even though they may be suffering from or Alzheimer's disease. This actually re-energizes and restores a sense of personal identity.

A group centered in London named Arts4dementia (Arts4dementia.org) believes that families living with dementia have the right to enjoy life to the full. They have demonstrated that people's artistic and imaginative responses can remain strong for years after the onset of dementia. In their report Reawakening the Mind, Arts4dementia details the results of 17 weekly art projects lasting three to ten weeks each during 2012 and 2013 in the City of London.

The 17 projects included art, music, dance, theatre, poetry, photography and media. The participants included 128 people with dementia and 81 caregivers. The outcomes were enlightening. All of the persons with early stage dementia reported feeling less isolated and developed new groups of friends. Ninety-nine percent felt more fulfilled and could see that continuing arts activity will enrich their lives.

On the caregiver side, the results were equally compelling. They found the arts activities to offer a constructive way for them to engage in a more meaningful relationship with their loved ones. Two professional caregivers found themselves more closely connected to their clients, with one client teaching his caregiver to paint.

On this side of the pond, a recent two part documentary on PBS, Arts & the Mind, aired on local channels KUED and KBYU. This program explores the role that arts play in human development during both youth and older age. Throughout the documentary, experts from USC, UCLA, Johns Hopkins and other institutions provide the scientific background of the workings of the brain during artistic activity, including brain imaging, to show actual improvement in brain activity. The video is available at http://video.pbs.org/video/2278294471.

Another organization that is focused on the beneficial relationship between the arts and the aging mind is the National Center for Creative Aging (http://www.creativeaging.org). The evidence is overwhelming. The aging mind, even suffering from severe stages of dementia and Alzheimer's, can be vastly improved and hope and joy restored, through the introduction of creative activity and exposure to various forms of artistic expression.

If you are caring for an aging loved one, explore what art might do to make both your lives easier, and most likely, richer and more fulfilling.

Other Legal Services:

LawWarner Law Firm's primary focus is estate planning and elder law matters.  However, we also have substantial experience and provide services in related areas such as:

  • Real property transactions and litigation, including real estate sales, real estate development, property line disputes, easements, zoning; and
  • Business matters and litigation, including business sales, leases, and formation of limited liability companies, partnerships and corporations.