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Almost everyone could benefit from doing some estate planning, which involves making arrangements for estate administration at death and during periods of lifetime incapacity. If you are currently married, or are planning on getting married, there are some specific reasons you and your spouse should consider meeting with an estate planning attorney.
- Planning for Incapacity – Financial. If you become incapacitated during your marriage, your spouse will have access to accounts you own jointly together. However, he or she would not automatically have any access to or rights to assets you hold in your name alone – even if you’ve named your spouse as the beneficiary. If you want to ensure your spouse would be able to step in to handle your financial affairs during periods of lifetime incapacity and would be able to access and use accounts that are just in your name alone, you need a power of attorney. Without this document, your spouse (or someone else) would need to go to court to establish a conservatorship over your affairs.
- Planning for Incapacity – Medical. Similarly, married people should also have advance directives for medical care, officially nominating one or more health care agents who would have authority to speak on their behalf if incapacity struck. Sometimes, spouses want to name each other. In other cases, people prefer to name both a spouse and an adult child (or another relative or friend) in this role. A health care directive can help ensure your wishes are honored without requiring someone to go to court to obtain guardianship.
- Estate Distribution Considerations. Both people who are just thinking about getting married as well as those who are already married should carefully consider how they want assets to pass when they die. This is particularly important for second (or subsequent) marriages where people want to provide for children from previous relationships. In some states, if you try to leave your spouse out of your estate plan or leave them only a nominal amount of assets, they can “elect against the Will” to take a larger share of assets. Careful planning with prenuptial agreements, Trusts, Wills, beneficiary designations, and asset titling can help ensure your estate assets will pass the way you want them to.
Whether you’re planning an upcoming wedding or have been married for decades, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to complete your estate planning. Contact us to get started!