No matter your circumstances or stage in life, estate planning is an integral part of forming your future. Dying with no estate plan in place could leave your loved ones with more questions than answers. Whether you are married, unmarried, divorced, or remarried, it is crucial to maintain an estate plan that is up-to-date and accurately reflects your wishes.
A common misconception made by young adults, among others, is that one must be a certain age, have children, or be “settled down” before they should begin their estate plan. However, this is not the case. Unmarried individuals are just as likely to face untimely death or incapacitation and must have a safety net in place. Estate planning applies to individuals of any age, marital status, or financial standing.
If you are single and plan to marry in the future, be prepared to revisit your estate plan after marriage. In the meantime, it is just as important to plan for the now. Additionally, those who belong in an unmarried couple are not automatically recognized as legal heirs to each other’s estates. Should the deceased party fail to leave behind estate planning documents (such as a will or trust), state law will dictate estate distribution and beneficiaries, which will not include the unmarried partner. Therefore, couples who intend to leave assets to one another should put estate planning at the top of their list of priorities.
Many view marriage as the start of a new chapter, which goes hand in hand with future planning. Amid the hustle and bustle of newlywed life, it is easy to avoid asking yourself what would happen if you or your spouse were to pass away. It may be an uncomfortable discussion, but facing this question head-on will leave no room for uncertainty. Further, as you acquire assets, such as vehicles, real estate, or cherished possessions, you may update your will and/or existing revocable trusts as you see necessary.
Joint Estate Planning
Joint estate planning may be a viable option for married couples. Depending on a couple’s particular set of circumstances, a joint estate plan has potential benefits and drawbacks.
If each partner has vastly different desires for the distribution of their estate, they may be better served by forming separate estate plans. Consulting with an expert in the field of estate planning can clarify these options and facilitate the process.
Whether you prefer to disinherit your former spouse or simply adjust their role in your estate plan, revisions are necessary following a divorce. It is recommended to review designations as they relate to powers of attorney, an advance directive, or their status as executor of your will. An estate planning professional (separate from a divorce attorney) can be a great guide when altering your existing documents, including:
- Power of Attorney
- Advance Directive
- Last Will and Testament
- Revocable Living Trusts (if any)
Protect your family by taking the time to carefully consider guardianship and applying these choices to your estate plan. In a Last Will and Testament, you may list your preference for the guardian of your child(ren). This may include a current or former spouse, family member, or another trusted, capable adult. Remember to discuss guardianship and childcare preferences at length with any involved parties.
Apart from guardianship designation, setting up a trust is another way to provide lasting care for your child when you are no longer living. Assets and childcare funds can be placed in a trust and safeguarded, only to be used for a particular purpose. Special attention must be given to appoint beneficiary status to stepchildren, adopted children, and children from previous marriages.