Deciding if you need separate versus joint trusts is a conversation that blended families need to have. Blended families, a term used to describe families created when two people with children from previous relationships come together, bring about a host of financial complexities that demand careful consideration. Balancing the financial needs of biological children, stepchildren, and the new family unit, requires a thoughtful and strategic approach. The manner in which assets are managed, protected, and distributed can significantly impact family harmony and ensure everyone’s future is secure. One significant aspect that demands careful consideration is estate planning. When it comes to managing assets and securing the financial future of a blended family, the decision to establish separate or joint trusts can significantly impact the outcomes. Here we will delve into the considerations surrounding separate versus joint trusts, helping you navigate the path towards effective estate planning for your blended family.

What is a Trust?

A trust is a legal arrangement that enables an individual, known as the grantor, to transfer assets to a separate entity managed by a trustee for the benefit of specific individuals or purposes, known as beneficiaries. Trusts serve as powerful tools for managing and protecting assets, facilitating asset distribution, and ensuring the realization of your financial intentions beyond your lifetime. They offer a level of control and customization that traditional wills may not provide, making them particularly valuable in complex family structures such as blended families.

Separate Trusts versus Joint Trusts

Separate Trusts: A separate trust, also known as an individual trust, is established by one spouse to manage and distribute their assets independently. This approach allows the grantor to address the unique financial needs of their biological children or heirs, tailoring the trust’s provisions to their specific requirements. Separate trusts safeguard family legacies, protecting valuable assets for the intended beneficiaries, while reducing the potential for conflicts among family members.

Joint Trusts: A joint trust, on the other hand, is a single trust established by both spouses to manage their combined assets for the benefit of their collective heirs, including biological and stepchildren. In a blended family context, a joint trust streamlines asset management and distribution, promoting unity and collaborative financial planning. Joint trusts are characterized by shared decision-making and a consolidated approach to estate planning, offering potential cost savings and simplicity.

Understanding the distinction between separate and joint trusts is vital when deciding on an appropriate estate planning strategy for your blended family. While separate trusts offer tailored solutions and cater to individual family dynamics, joint trusts prioritize unity and simplicity. The choice between the two depends on your family’s unique circumstances, financial goals, and your vision for the future distribution of assets. Consulting with legal and financial experts experienced in estate planning can help you make an informed decision that aligns with your family’s needs and values.

Separate versus Joint Trusts for Blended Families

Separate Trusts: Tailoring to Individual Needs


Customization: Separate trusts allow each spouse to address the specific financial needs of their biological children. This enables the grantors to distribute their assets in ways that align with their unique family dynamics.

Protecting Heirlooms and Family Wealth: If one spouse has family heirlooms or significant wealth they wish to preserve for their biological children, a separate trust ensures these assets remain untouched by the other spouse’s financial obligations.

Minimizing Conflict: By maintaining financial independence through separate trusts, the potential for conflict between the children of different parents is reduced. This structure can help foster harmonious relationships within the blended family.


Complexity and Cost: Managing separate trusts can be more intricate than a joint trust. Each trust requires its own legal documentation and administrative efforts, potentially leading to higher legal fees and administrative costs.

Communication Challenges: Ensuring transparent communication about the allocation of assets and the intentions behind them is crucial to prevent misunderstandings or disputes among family members.

Joint Trusts: Streamlined Management


Simplicity: A joint trust consolidates assets, simplifying the management and distribution of finances. This approach can be particularly beneficial if both spouses share similar intentions for their assets.

Unified Financial Goals: A joint trust encourages collaborative financial planning, fostering unity between spouses and potentially reducing conflicts that might arise from separate financial arrangements.

Economical: Joint trusts often involve lower initial setup costs and reduced administrative expenses compared to maintaining multiple separate trusts.


Lack of Customization: A joint trust may not adequately address the specific needs of each spouse’s children. This could result in unequal distributions that do not align with individual family dynamics.

Potential for Conflict: Despite the intention of unity, joint trusts could raise disputes between the children of different parents if they perceive inequity in the distribution of assets.

Complications in Case of Divorce: In the unfortunate event of a divorce, untangling a joint trust can be more complex than dealing with separate trusts. This could lead to further legal complications and emotional stress.

Finding the Right Balance

Deciding between separate and joint trusts for a blended family is a delicate decision that requires careful consideration. While separate trusts offer tailored solutions and minimize potential conflicts, they can be administratively burdensome and costly. Joint trusts streamline management and promote unity but may not cater to the individual needs of each family member.

It’s crucial for blended families to consult with legal and financial professionals who specialize in estate planning to determine the most suitable approach. Ultimately, the chosen trust structure should align with the family’s unique dynamics and long-term goals, providing both financial security and peace of mind for all family members involved.

Do you need help funding the right balance? We are available in Illinois or Wisconsin to help secure your family’s legacy. Contact us today and see how we can help.

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Disclaimer: This article is intended to serve as a general summary of the issues outlined therein. While this article may include general guidance, it is not intended as, nor is a substitute for, qualified legal advice. Your review or receipt of this article by Lexern Law Offices, Ltd. (the “LLG”) or any of its attorneys does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and the LLG. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors of the article and does not reflect the opinion of the LLG.