Estate Planning for the Modern Family

Estate Planning for the Modern Family

by Bilal Kaiser, December 2009

Today's families come in many forms. Stepping back to consider who you want protected should tragedy occur can be tough. Whether you're part of a husband-and-wife team with or without kids, or a parent or grandparent to biological kids, adopted children, or step kids, the family tree can have branches in many directions. Maybe you have a life partner, a lifelong friend, or a second family like a church that you want to look out for. Or maybe you think of yourself as a mother of three: two cats and one loving mutt named Rover that you saved from the pound. It's important to act now to help everyone you care about—including your pets.

With the good comes the not so good: it's possible that a major life event could create unnecessary conflict between family members or cause a long-lost relative to try stealing from little Rover. While it might be difficult to talk about planning your estate, putting your wishes in writing can help avoid confusion and disagreement in the event you are unable to speak for yourself.

Act today and create a living trust, a living will, or a last will. You can update it as needed over time. It could be the primary means of ensuring your last wishes are followed upon your passing. A Will can determine not only what happens to your assets or how property is distributed, but it can also outline what happens to your children, pets—even your debts.

A living trust can help you avoid probate, a living will can outline your healthcare decisions should you be unable to decide for yourself. A related topic is assigning a Health Care Power of Attorney. LegalZoom includes this addition for free with purchase of a Living Will. A Health Care Power of Attorney allows you to choose someone to make specific healthcare decisions on your behalf. Similar to a power of attorney that is used to appoint someone to represent you in legal and financial matters.

The specific processes and laws vary by state, so be sure to consult a reputable site like, or a local estate planning resource. Setting up comprehensive legal documents can help prevent misunderstanding and conflict between family members in the event of a serious health concern or other life-altering event. And for today's non-traditional families, this is essential.