Estate Planning Essentials for Non-Traditional Families

What important estate planning tools should I use to protect my non-traditional family?

The dynamic of the American family is ever shifting.  Today, a large portion of Americans live in so-called “non-traditional” households.  Non-traditional families often include unmarried couples or stepparents.  While estate planning is critical for all adults, it becomes especially important for individuals in a non-traditional family who may not be adequately protected under current state and federal laws.  Non-traditional family members can utilize some simple but vital estate planning tools to protect their children and loved ones.

Create a Will

One of the first estate planning steps everyone should take is drafting a will.  This is a critically important step if you are living with but not married to your partner or have not legally adopted your stepchildren.  Without a will, your hard earned assets will be given by default to your closest legal relatives.  Unmarried partners and children that are not biologically related to you or related through adoption will not generally be included.  By creating a valid and enforceable California will, you can rest assured that your family receives your assets and possessions in the event of your death.

Give Your Partner Rights

If you become suddenly incapacitated, your spouse, parents, or adult children will traditionally have the right to make important decisions on your behalf.  Unmarried partners are not usually considered because they are not legally related to you.  By drafting a durable power of attorney or a medical power of attorney, you can grant your unmarried partner the legal right to make medical and financial decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so yourself.

Use Trusts

Trusts offer you flexibility in passing your property on to the next generation.  With a trust, you can not only name who you want to receive your assets, you can also set restrictions as to when and under what circumstances the assets can be used.  For instance, in a trust, you could call for partial distribution of the funds when your child reaches the age of 18 and complete distribution when the child turns 30.  Alternatively, you could dictate that your partner is allowed to live in the family home for the remainder of his or her life, with the home then going to your children.  The possibilities are endless, as are the potential tax savings that setting up a trust may provide.


Brian Chew, the managing partner of OC Wills & Trust Attorneys, has extensive experience in the areas of estate planning, asset protection planning, business succession planning, long-term care planning, and veterans’ benefits. By devoting his practice to estate planning matters, he has founded a firm that strives to provide exceptional service to their clients by working closely with individuals and their families to create comprehensive and customized estate plans. For the past twenty five years, Brian has served thousands of clients in the matters of estate planning, wills and trusts. If you have any questions about this article, you can reach Brian Chew here.