The Importance of Wills for Non-Traditional Families

Most people don't like to think about dying. Because of that, the idea of creating a will can be uncomfortable. It's easier just to postpone that task and hope for the best. However, if you're part of a non-traditional family, it's especially important that you have a will.

This article will cover:

What's a Non-Traditional Family?

The concept of "family" has changed over the years. Historically, the norm for a family was a husband and wife, and likely at least one or two children. That's no longer the case. It's increasingly common to encounter non-traditional family structures. This can look like:

  • An unmarried couple living together
  • A couple in a same-sex marriage or other LGBTQ+ couple
  • Married couples that adopt kids
  • Single parents
  • A household that includes extended family members like grandparents, aunts, or uncles
  • A second marriage, with or without children from a first marriage
  • Blended families
  • A committed partnership or marriage in which the partners choose to live separately

What's a Will, Anyway?

Generally speaking, a will is a legal document that spells out how you want your assets, such as real estate, distributed after your death. In addition to laying out who gets your most prized possessions if you die, a will allows you to name an executor. That's the official title of the person who handles the administration of your estate. A will can also be used to name a guardian for any minor children or stepchildren.

In contrast, a will can't be used to gift assets that are owned and titled jointly with someone else. They also generally can't be used to gift money from IRAs and other retirement plans. Instead, the person or people who will inherit that money will have been named directly with your plan's administrator. They are called beneficiaries. The same is generally true for the proceeds of any life insurance policies in accordance with beneficiary designations.

Will Considerations for Non-Traditional Families

Ideally, everyone would have a will. When it comes to non-traditional families, though, there are some unique factors that make having a will especially important.

Unmarried Partners

If you're living with a partner, but you're not married, you'll want a will to ensure that your partner inherits from you if you die. The law doesn't otherwise protect the inheritance rights of unmarried partners. Having a valid will in this scenario also reduces the odds of a blood relative with whom you don't get along or are estranged from successfully challenging your inheritance wishes.

Blended Families

If you're married, but you or your spouse have children from a previous relationship, you'll want to make sure you have a will that clearly explains what real or personal property should be given to your spouse versus your or your spouse's children. Want to make sure your stepson inherits your vinyl record collection, but your biological daughter inherits your vintage motorcycle? Lay that out in a will.

Single Parents

If you're a single parent, you'll want a will to name a guardian for your child or children. Maybe you know your brother would want to raise your child if you died, but you'd prefer your best friend to have that honor. Say so in your will! It's a good idea to have a conversation with the person or people you plan to name to make sure they're willing to take on that responsibility in the event of your death.

What Happens if You Die Without a Will?

If you die and you don't have a will, your estate will be settled based on the intestacy laws of your state in a process called probate. Without a will that names an executor, a judge will need to appoint an administrator to act in that role. The administrator may be a surviving spouse if the couple was married, but it could be someone you or your loved ones know. As a result, that person may well make decisions that wouldn't necessarily line up with your wishes.

While each state's laws vary, it's likely that only your closest blood relatives, such as biological children, will inherit your assets if you die without a will. A will is a simple and effective tool to avoid that outcome and protect your chosen family's interests.

Ready To Get Started?

You can write a will on your own, but it can also be helpful to get a lawyer's advice and perspective to make sure you don't overlook anything important in your estate planning. A tax planning advisor could also give you estate tax planning strategies.

Make sure to consider preparing other estate planning documents, including a living will, a power of attorney (authorizing someone to make financial decisions for you), or durable power of attorney (designating someone to make medical decisions for you if you can't). You might even benefit from having a prenup.

Contact a local estate planning attorney at a law firm today to get the process started!