When a couple is getting married the last thing that they are typically worried about is estate planning. However, once the honeymoon is over you should sit down with your new spouse and update your individual estate plans to reflect the new status of your marriage. The following tips are a good place to start when combining two individual estate plans into one.
Visit the HR Department
Nowadays, your employer typically handles your retirement accounts and life insurance forms. Once you have been married, you should visit your HR department to update the beneficiary forms for these documents to include your new spouse. Beneficiary accounts are different from other assets in an estate, so if the beneficiary is left as someone different the value of the account will go to them and not the spouse.
Update Life Insurance
After you are married, it is a good time to review the status of your life insurance needs. Some employment-based life insurance has a fairly low cap, so it may be necessary to look at other options for increasing the amount of your life insurance policy. If you are considering having children, you should factor that into your consideration now, when the premiums for life insurance are low.
Draft a Will
Even though you may not have accumulated that much wealth by the time you get married, you should still execute a basic will that leaves what assets that you do have to your spouse. Dying without a will, or intestate, leaves the estate in the hands of the state courts to distribute and not all states give the entire estate automatically to the spouse.
In addition, if a prenuptial agreement was signed prior to the marriage, the terms of that agreement should also be addressed in the will. Your estate plan should reflect the prenuptial agreement to ensure that it is carried out in the way that it was intended.
Create Durable Powers of Attorney Forms
Despite the fact that you are married, in the unfortunate case that you become in capacitated and cannot make decisions for yourself your spouse does not automatically get to make your decisions for you. In order to ensure that your spouse has the right to make legal, financial, and medical decisions on your behalf you should both execute durable power of attorney and advance directive forms. You should formally name your spouse as your decision maker in this event and name an alternate in the event where an accident incapacitates you both.
Discuss Home Ownership Documents
If you and your spouse bought a home prior to getting married, you need to sit down after the wedding and discuss the terms of home ownership. If only one person was named on the deed it may make sense to put the house in both names. Changing the ownership of the home to a joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety (depending on where you live) can ensure that the home avoids the probate process.