There are many reasons why I am delighted to be writing about America’s Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. One of the less obvious ones is that she hails from something I see in my practice area time and again: a blended family.
The myth that blended and stepfamilies are universally rife with tension and arguments thankfully appears to be consigned to history. However, a successful and confluent blended family does not necessarily mean that an easy road lies ahead when it comes to estate planning: this is a still complex area that sensibly calls for careful consideration.
Whatever shape your family comes in, I am admittedly a champion of timely estate and inheritance tax planning. For example, did you realise that your Will, unless made in contemplation of your upcoming nuptials, is automatically revoked by remarriage? Had you thought that your priorities would perhaps change as to whom you leave your estate when you die? Or what the potential inheritance tax ramifications might be?
Your beneficiaries could conceivably now include children and stepchildren; you are not obligated to provide for stepchildren but, like Ms Harris, you may feel a deep affection for your inherited family and want them to receive a share of your capital.
If you have no stepchildren but are remarried, you might you want your second spouse and blood children to inherit or benefit from different parts of your estate at different times.
Your loved ones – both old and new - will not necessarily inherit from you by default unless they are specifically included in your Will and/or the necessary mechanisms are put in place to ensure your estate is distributed in accordance with your wishes.
Simply put, you ought to consider what makes up the very fabric of your blended family; your lawyer or tax advisor can then help you to plan accordingly.
Ms Harris and Mr Emhoff clearly demonstrate a modern blended family that operates with ease, care and good grace. Resting on one’s laurels, however, is never a good idea when it comes to proper estate planning and a harmonious family arrangement should not detract from the time one affords to this vital exercise.
Emhoff’s two adult children, Ella and Cole, reportedly call Harris Momola because they don’t like the term stepmom. “They are brilliant, talented, funny kids who have grown to be remarkable adults,” Harris has said. “I was already hooked on Doug, but I believe it was Cole and Ella who reeled me in.”