I noticed during a morning news show that September 16th was National Step-Family Day. At first I chuckled at how many “awareness days” seem to be popping up. Then, as an expert began to speak about blended families, I realized how incredibly important it is for step-families to be informed.
I am a child of a blended family. Together, my mom and stepdad have six daughters, three on each side. It’s like the Brady Bunch but ALL girls. In addition to feeling monumentally sorry for my stepdad for all the hormones he had to navigate during our teenage years, I’ve realized as an adult now starting my own family, how tremendously hard my parents worked to blend our family together into one big, messy, emotional family who loves each other and has, eventually, become one.
Blending a family takes perseverance, unselfishness and the ability to stay focused on the goal of creating a loving family. Unfortunately, at the beginning it’s usually just the parents who are persevering, being unselfish and trying to stay focused on the goal. We kids are arguing over whether you sing Happy Birthday before or after you blow out the candles and if you open up Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. Very important issues to argue about, my fifteen-year old self can assure you!
We didn’t necessarily solve all of these differences of opinions, but life went on, and we celebrated graduations and marriages. Then, one day, we had the rug pulled out from under us when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. And I realized that any opinion I held about how my stepdad wasn’t fair for making me do the dishes two nights in a row eight years ago becomes unimportant when I see the look of utter devastation on his face when the doctor says “The cancer has spread to her lymph nodes.” I realize just how much he loves my mother and I become eternally grateful for the family, the big, blended, chaos of my family, that can lean on each other as my mom goes through chemo treatments. I know my mom is loved, everywhere she turns. In this situation, it becomes bigger than you; it becomes “us”, as family should. And every Christmas Eve thereafter, I am incredibly grateful that my mother is in remission and can celebrate with my loud, eccentric blended family.
Now, as my parents celebrate twenty-one years of marriage, we realize there is one more thing they must focus and do to make sure all the hard work they did to blend our family together doesn’t fall apart, after all these years. They need to complete their estate plan. It’s not about the stuff, they aren’t wealthy and all their kids are grown. It’s about making sure the family they worked so hard to make one, the traditions they compromised on and creatively combined, the children who learned to love each other and the grandchildren who grew up loving each other, stay a family even after they are gone. Estate planning laws aren’t kind to blended families. If you don’t have any planning completed then the state laws will dictate how your estate is handled. It usually favors the children of whichever parent died last, and unintentionally disinherits the other side. And feelings are hurt and family falls apart.
After all the love and perseverance you put into blended your loved ones together, don’t let lack of planning tear them apart. Speak with your estate planning attorney about how to put a plan in place so your family isn’t pulled apart after your death by bitter feelings. It doesn’t have to be a complicated plan, but it does have to be completed!
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