If only all blended families were are harmonious as the innocuous and disarmingly pleasant Brady Bunch.

There are so many complex dynamics that are unique to the blended family – balancing provision for a second spouse against that for children from the first marriage, keeping step-children provided for who are often dependent and preventing favouritism for the children of the new union against those of the a former marriage are the most common I see.

From my perspective, crafting estate planning and litigating the fallout from poorly constructed (or non-existent) estate planning for blended families is one of the hardest things to get right.

It is a balancing act – and one that changes for each family and also changes as the family changes and ages.

One of the factors that affects the balance and impacts how we craft estate plans and Wills, is the degree of dependence or independence of the new spouse.

In short, who brought the greater share of assets to the family? And how do we carve them up when one owner dies without leaving the other destitute or unfairly holding fewer assets than they brought into the relationship?  How do you cater for everyone?

There are many strategies in the estate planner’s toolbox – some of the more common involve using multiple Testamentary Trusts, or recasting the type of ownership of property such as the family home, or setting up Discretionary Family Trusts during life.

The article here makes some very valid points – one of them is that there must be full disclosure and honesty.  I cannot endorse this enough; if there are too many secrets around the financial situation expectations can be dashed when a Will is read and it does not work the way a beneficiary imagined it would (or somehow thought by magic it should). The net result of this is all too often brutal and expensive litigation that can ruin whatever last vestige of family harmony there once was.

The moral of the story is that even a family as happy as the Brady Bunch can end in bitterness and fighting without proper estate planning.