These days family structures in the United States are generally more complex than they were 60 years ago. Divorce is more common now among people over age 50, and families more often include stepchildren, foster children, domestic partnerships and all of the family dynamics that follow.
These and other issues require careful estate planning to ensure that assets are protected and passed on to heirs in accordance with the estate owner's wishes. State and federal laws don't always apply to a specific family structure, and many Texans will need a specialized estate plan to fit their family's particular circumstances.
For example, if you want to leave assets to children from a previous marriage or relationship, or to stepchildren, or to anyone who isn't automatically regarded as a legal heir, then you may want to speak with an attorney about creating a solid gifting strategy or a trust. Such measures can limit tax liabilities for your loved ones.
It is also possible to leave retirement or investment moneys to someone besides your spouse, but again you'll want to take into account the tax liability. A retirement account can roll over to your spouse when you die, and your spouse can defer the attached tax liability until he or she reaches age 70. But that isn't the case for heirs who are not your spouse.
Anyone who isn't your spouse would have to take retirement distribution income sooner than your spouse would, and that means the heir would also have to pay taxes on that income.
Other estate planning instruments such as powers of attorney and living wills can be used to give someone who isn't your spouse the ability to make decisions on your behalf.
To learn more about ways of sculpting your family's financial future, please visit our estate planning site.
Source: Forbes, "Breaking Tradition: Planning Strategies for Today's Family," Oct. 14, 2013