You need a Will. Everyone needs a Will but if you’re part of a blended family it’s especially critical. You’ll want to take care of your current spouse but also your children from a previous marriage. You need to make these decisions – don’t let things “just happen” and hope your family “does the right thing.”
Think about it: If your Will leaves everything to your second spouse, for example, and you die first and leave everything to him or her, the door is open for him or her to remarry and cut your children out completely. Don’t think it won’t happen: whether by accident or by design, this is a very common issue, and your children will face an uphill or even impossible battle to keep even one family keepsake, much less a part of your estate. And why invite a fight?
Another thing to consider is naming a corporate executor or trustee to take care of your estate if you have a blended family. Interview independent trust companies or your bank and ask your attorney about this option. The fees will be paid from your estate, the fees in many cases will be tax deductions, and the corporate executor will “take the heat off” your spouse or children and help preserve family harmony. They’ll also get the job done efficiently and make sure your wishes are carried out with a minimum of stress and disruption to your family.
Believe it or not, disputes over personal property are often the strongest. A lot of estate and trust attorneys will tell you that people fight harder over “stuff” even more than money. Don’t get in a rush. The answer to who owns and gets all the stuff in the house is often not who you think it is. Sometimes, after a death a house can be owned by a different person or group than the person or group who owns the stuff in the house. The bottom line:
1.) A Will should say what happens to the tangible personal property (the personal property you can see and touch –household furnishings, antiques, clothes, jewelry, household goods, kitchen items, etc.)
2.) If there is no Will, and you are a friend or family member of the deceased person, you need to meet with an experienced estate attorney as soon as possible once someone dies, and make sure nobody removes ANYTHING from the house until it’s clear who owns what.
3.) If you’re named Executor, it’s wise to re-key a house’s locks once the estate is opened at court and you are formally named Executor or Administrator. It sounds like overkill, but it’s a smart move, especially if there are a lot of family members or if caregivers have been coming and going from a house. Your job as Executor is to take care of the personal property – and that includes the stuff in the house – and not be in a hurry.