Dear Carrie, My wife and I have two children, and I have two children from a previous marriage. How can I make sure that my estate plan treats everyone fairly? --A Reader
Dear Reader, Estate planning in a second marriage can be tricky, especially when there are children from different marriages involved. What seems fair to you may not seem fair to your wife. She, quite naturally, will want to protect herself and your mutual children. And of course, your children will have their own feelings about what's fair.
In my mind, giving each of your kids an equal share of your assets is probably the most equitable -- and possibly the easiest -- solution. After all, it's not just about money. It's also about the way that money so often represents love.
But that's my take. What's important is that you decide yourself what seems most appropriate for your own circumstances.
In any case, communication is essential. I know that talking about money is often difficult. And talking about inheritance can be even tougher because you need to confront the painful possibility of someone's death. However, that's what you need to do first.
An estate-planning attorney can help you with the technical aspects of dividing up your estate, but you and your wife need to do some serious upfront thinking, and talk through your concerns openly and honestly.
Start by looking at different scenarios
In estate planning for a single family, the flow of assets is often quite simple: Assets go first to the surviving spouse, then to the children. But you have more to consider. If you leave everything to your current wife, she would be responsible for making sure that the children from your first marriage get their fair share. This can be an issue for any blended family, but especially when the spouse and first set of children are close in age. It's smart to look at alternatives.
For instance, let's say you and your wife each have separate assets that you've brought into the marriage as well as assets that you own together. Just as an example, if you should die first, do you want at least some of your assets to go directly to your children from your first marriage? Or would you prefer that your wife have access to the income from those assets during her lifetime with the principal passing equally to each of your children upon her death?
And what if your wife dies first? Does she want everything to go to you, which could then be passed on to all your children? Or would she want some of her assets to go directly to your mutual children?