At some point in adulthood, a lot of people pair up. For those that do, estate planning takes different dimensions. What you have isn’t just yours necessarily. Whether you get married or not, living together means figuring out how the finances should work. Planning for what should happen when either of you die is an important piece of financial planning.
Finances aren’t the only types of legal issues that can come up. The significance of whether you are legally married or not will make a really big difference on what will happen if you don’t make a plan. If you’re not married, you need to think whether you want your partner to have any rights to have a say in your financial affairs or medical decisions and whether you want your stuff to go to them. If you do, welcome to estate planning. Boy do you need it. Here’s the thing. A marriage certificate has significant legal consequences and no where more so than in the law involving incapacity and death. Significant others who aren’t married have no automatic rights either to play a role when their partner is incapacitated or rights to their assets when they die. If you want that person to have rights, you need to create them through legal documents.
If you are married, think about what you have, how you want it to transfer and how it will get there. If you both want everything to go as easily and quickly as possible to the survivor, check everything you own to make sure you either own it together in a way that the survivor becomes owner or, if you own it alone, it automatically goes to your spouse when you die. Still have a will in place to make sure anything that doesn’t transfer automatically still transfers in the same way. Here’s an example. Let’s take the family home and lets say one spouse bought it when they were single. That deed should be updated, not only to add the other spouse as an owner but also include specific language indicating that the surviving owner should become the sole owner. An estate planning attorney can make sure the deed does just that.
Let’s talk about something that most people know of, but don’t necessarily think of as a document for estate planning: nuptial agreements. But the most powerful thing they can do is address what happens when one spouse dies. Most states allow a surviving spouse a guaranteed amount regardless of what a will says. These rights can only be waived through a nuptial agreement. Not every couple needs a nuptial agreement, but if the plan includes assets going to one person’s kids or one person has family wealth that should stay with that family (we see this a lot with businesses and farms), you need a nuptial agreement to make sure the plan is followed. Nuptial agreements plan as much for death as anything else.
However you’re paired up, make sure your assets will transfer where you want, in the most efficient way possible.