However, if your ex-wife is still named as beneficiary in your retirement and investment accounts, she will inherit the funds, not your new wife. Beneficiary designations typically trump wills.
Fortunately, it is relatively easy to make and update beneficiary designations. When you open a retirement account, such as an IRA, the provider generally offers a beneficiary designation form within the account itself. You can name your beneficiaries when you create the account and change your beneficiaries whenever you wish (with one possible exception). As for investment and bank accounts, making beneficiary designations will likely require you to request a transfer on death form. This, too, is easily accomplished.
The exception noted above refers to certain laws governing the passing of retirement accounts to spouses. Your spouse will typically inherit your 401(k), for example, unless he or she signs a consent form waiving his or her right to it. If your ultimate goal is to leave your 401(k) to your children, your spouse will have to agree to this in writing. Designating your children as beneficiaries of your 401(k) will generally not be enough.
Protecting Children from a Previous Marriage
If all of your estate's assets are left to your new spouse, your children from a previous marriage may not be provided for in the manner you would have wanted after you pass away. Your new spouse could, upon his or her death, leave all of the assets to his or her children from a previous marriage, thereby excluding your children. Conversely, if the majority of your estate is left to your children from an earlier marriage, there may not be enough assets remaining to provide for your new spouse or any children you have together. It can be a balancing act, one that requires proper planning to ensure your wishes, and those of your new spouse, are carried out. At the very least, each spouse should have a will. Without one, intestacy laws will likely result in assets being distributed in a manner neither of you would have wanted.
A trust, or combination of trusts, is generally a better approach than a will for second marriages and blended families. One such trust, which provides an excellent form of asset protection, is called a Qualified Terminable Interest Property Trust (QTIP). A QTIP Trust can generate income for the benefit of the surviving spouse during his or her lifetime. When the surviving spouse passes away, the QTIP's assets can be distributed between mutual and prior children according to the wishes of the previously deceased spouse. In addition, if the children are young, assets from the QTIP Trust can be held in another trust, under the control of an independent trustee. This approach can prevent estate assets from falling under an ex-spouse's control. It can also protect your children's inheritances from threats like creditors, lawsuits, and even your heirs' poor decisions if they are not yet ready to manage an inheritance on their own.