The concept of “family” has evolved significantly over the decades. Today, blended families – those formed by partners with children from previous relationships – have become commonplace. While they bring the joy of new beginnings, they also introduce complex dynamics, especially when it comes to estate planning.
The Complex Landscape of Blended Families
At its heart, a blended family is a mix of step-siblings, half-siblings, step-parents, and other relational configurations. With this comes a web of emotions, histories, and expectations. And while love can flow abundantly, so can misunderstandings and conflicts. This is especially evident in the realm of wills and estate distribution.
Issues Arising from Estate Planning
The chief concern for blended families in Australia is ensuring that assets are distributed ” fairly” among biological children, step-children, and new spouses. Discrepancies in perceived fairness can lead to familial rifts. These complexities are compounded when family members feel they’ve been inadequately provided for, leading to potential legal battles.
Australia’s legal framework provides an avenue for family provision claims. And this is “fuelled “ by advertising by avaricious no-win, no-fee lawyers. This allows certain eligible persons to contest a will if they believe they’ve been left without adequate provision. While designed to protect the vulnerable, it has inadvertently become a battleground for disgruntled family members.
Some couples believe they can sensibly agree on a pathway to draft their wills and their superannuation death benefit nominations to cause a certain desirable outcome. Regrettably, it is rarely apparent which member of the couple will be first to die…….and directing super death benefits to the Estate to “simplify the mechanics” has the downside of those same super assets then becoming the subject of an expanded family provisions claim! So with significant differences in the balance of future wealth, as between a couple, it CAN make a substantial difference to beneficiaries who amongst the testator-couple dies first without adequate planning.
A further reality is that, there is nothing to stop the survivor of a couple from altering their Will, to break from some sensible life-time pact. This can arise from a wide range of emotions, rightly or wrongly including changes in family dynamics or individuals’ financial or health circumstances…..even extending to the prospect of the surviving spouse later re-partnering!
A Cautionary Tale
Consider the case of a wealthy Australian businessman with three children from his first marriage and two from his second. In his Will, he left the majority of his assets to his second wife and their children, with a smaller portion to his first set of children. Feeling sidelined, the children from the first marriage launched a family provision claim, igniting a nasty, public, and expensive court battle. Not only were assets diminished due to substantial legal costs, but family ties were irreparably damaged. Further, the process of Estate administration was delayed by more than a year……meaning no distributions could be made in the meantime….and rights to occupy the testator’s residence were under a cloud.
Why EPI-centre’s direct access to and working relationship with specialist estate planning lawyers, Abbott and Mourly, can be so valuable
Avoiding scope for such disputes requires foresight, empathy, tact, and trust from EPI-centre briefings to A&M to enable expert legal advice. This is where our unique relationship with Abbott and Mourly Lawyers come into play. With a deep understanding of the intricacies of Australian estate laws and the unique challenges posed by blended families, our teams crafts bespoke estate plans designed to minimise the risk of dispute and potentially treacherous litigation.
Together, this is what EPI-centre and Abbott and Mourly deliver in pursuit of Protective Estate Planning outcomes:
- Expertise: staying abreast of the latest developments in Australian estate law, ensuring your estate plan is both current and robust, in the context of your unique family circumstances;
- Customisation: We recognise that no two families are the same. We’ll work closely with you to understand your unique family dynamics, ensuring all parties are considered and adequately provided for.
- Mediation: In cases of potential conflict, A & M offer mediation services, fostering open dialogue and understanding among family members.
In the world of blended families, protective estate planning isn’t just about assets; it’s also about preserving family harmony for generations to come. Trust EPI-centre’s ability to search for a deep awareness of your family and business….. and integrated relationship with Abbott and Mourly Lawyers, to guide you through this intricate process, securing peace of mind for you and your loved ones.