Marriage, Divorce and Estate Planning: Tips for Blended Families

According to Statistics Canada, roughly 12% (or one in eight) of Canadian families are “blended.” Also called stepfamilies, these merged family units are the result of two people coming together from previous marriages, and bringing a child or children with them.

It’s an increasingly common facet of Canadian familial life, reflecting a modern understanding of family as less about biology and more about a shared commitment to love and compassion. People find love in strange, unexpected ways – at various points in their lives and under various circumstances. The contemporary blended family is a testament to this reality.

That said, blended families face logistical and legal hurdles sometimes. Coming together as a family from previous marriages, potentially moving apart as the blended family dissolves, and estate planning for a blended family when one or the other partner passes away – these can be complex processes. As one of Canada’s preeminent services for home organization, move management and estate clear outs, NEATSPACES has encountered countless blended families at various life stages. As such, we wanted to offer some guidance.

In this blog post, let’s explore tips for blended families, offering linked resources and actionable advice for your new family structure.

Marrying the Blended Family: How to Come Together in One Home

Let’s say you’ve left a marriage and found someone new. The divorce proceedings may be finalized; perhaps not. In any case, your role in bringing together a blended family becomes a balancing act between the emotional and logistical aspects of the process.

Emotionally preparing two families for cohabitation will take time and love. Psychologists recommend establishing clear boundaries and roles for how each partner will parent the other’s kids, urging step-parents to ease into their roles by earning trust and admiration first. (I.e., most experts dissuade step-parents from quickly assuming a disciplinary role). Moreover, you should foster open communication and respect for everyone’s opinion. This is likely a challenging transition for the kids involved, and ensuring they feel “heard” is critical. These resources from Psychology Today and The Gottman  Institute are diligent and thorough in their exploration of the topic. 

As you navigate the emotional merger of two families, you will also need to figure out the physical logistics of fitting both families under a single roof. Blended families often bring together two previous homes under a new roof – including keepsakes, kids’ possessions, furniture, documents, appliances, etc. Obviously, sentimental items from each family need to stay, but you don’t want duplicates of everyday appliances and furniture items. We can recommend our organization, downsizing and move management services for this task. At NEATSPACES, we take a careful, caring approach to moving homes, ensuring that each family is satisfied with the new space.

happy couple having fun laughing unpacking boxes moving day

Divorce in the Blended Family: Parting Amicably, Collaboratively and Effectively

As challenging as it may be to think about, a blended family will end in one of two ways: death or divorce. This is the same for any family, a sad reality that nevertheless requires sober-eyed preparation. In this section, we explore the process of divorce in a blended family. In the next section, we tackle estate planning for a death in the blended family.

Divorce happens. For many, it’s the reasonable solution to a relationship that just isn’t working as it should. But for some blended families, the process might feel additionally taxing. This is, after all, a second (or third, etc.) divorce for a family, and the process might be especially fraying for all parties involved.

In the same way we emphasized emotional and logistical preparations in our marriage section above, we want to ensure that the divorce process is smooth, congenial and (ideally) collaborative. Start by discussing your continued role as parent/caregiver in your blended family. Consider brushing up on the Canadian Divorce Act and the Ontario Family Law Act, which cover partners who “stand in place of a parent” or demonstrate “a settled intention to treat a child as a child of his or her family.” If your stepchild’s biological parent is no longer part of their life, a court may define your obligations to that child. In any case, these are discussions it’s best to have prior to divorce proceedings, ideally in the presence of a collaborative family lawyer, mediator or counsellor. And throughout the process, ensure that all kids in the blended family feel comfortable, listened to, and safeguarded from animosity.

As for the logistical aspects – again, we offer our compassionate services and resources. From a real estate perspective, a blended family divorce might mean three transactions: the sale of the family home and the purchase of two smaller homes. And again, our neutral third-party downsizing and move management services can help make this process run as smoothly as possible. We’ll help each family allocate, evaluate and move their belongings to a new space, minimizing unnecessary added disruptions. With all the high emotions of a divorce, the last thing you want to worry about is downsizing to a smaller home. NEATSPACES is here to help.

If you’re unfamiliar with dividing or selling a matrimonial home, feel free to read our helpful resource on real estate services after a divorce. We’ve also linked to the Ontario Family Law Act and Divorce Act above for your perusal.

Estate Planning for Blended Families: Establishing a Future in the New Family Structure

In the Royal Bank of Canada’s guide to estate planning for blended families, they describe it as “fraught with potential pitfalls,” with “the potential to create mistrust and discord among family members if not handled properly.” If that sounds like serious language, it’s because estate planning in a blended family is serious. It’s legally and emotionally complicated, sometimes featuring competing interests among children, stepchildren and spouses.

Ask any financial or legal expert, and they’ll likely tell you to be proactive, prepared and open. Update your will upon remarriage, and continually revisit that will as times and circumstances evolve. Consider a prenuptial agreement not as protection for a wealthier partner but as assurance of equitability across the blended families. Consider establishing a trust for asset distribution, such as a revocable living trust. And re-evaluate your life insurance policy options (term vs. whole life insurance, joint vs. combined, etc.). You should take these steps alongside knowledgeable lawyers and financial advisors.

At the same time, read through NEATSPACES’ guide on estate planning for personal belongings. Contact us for a free in-home consultation to discuss how best to realize your estate goals and objectives. Our compassionate estate clearout services can be a salve during difficult times and a much-needed neutral presence during complicated estate settlement proceedings.

If you count yourself among the 12% of Canadians lucky enough to start a new loving family, we hope you’ve found some insights in the blog post. If you have any questions about how NEATSPACES can aid in bringing you together, compassionately separating or planning an estate, please do not hesitate to contact us. 

For downsizing, moving and organizing services in the Greater Toronto Area contact us today!