Estate Planning for the Newly Married

By Cory Howes

Now is the perfect time to start working on an estate plan—because, as newlyweds, you may not have a list of your accounts, but you’ve effectively just done a working inventory of your possessions—as you’ve figured out how to consolidate two households into one. You’ve already been working on the new banking and shared responsibility of bills, taxes, and other expenditures.

Use that all time and energy and work as a jump-start into planning for your future, so you’ll be that much more prepared for the house, the kids, and the next stages of your new life together.

Why Think About Estate Planning At This Point?

Even if you have few assets, you have more than you think. Still, putting together a will or a trust probably is very straightforward at this point, since you just did that accounting of your collective assets.

You may have heard of state laws that give your property to a spouse, if you don’t have a will. These laws—known as intestacy laws—vary by state and can sometimes have results you wouldn’t expect. In North Carolina, it is likely that at least some of your property will not, in fact, go to your spouse if you die. And, intestacy requires your estate going to probate—a court proceeding that can take months, even years, to resolve. So a basic estate plan should give you some peace of mind, knowing loved ones are taken care of, if anything should happen.

You can even plan for property you don’t yet own (a house you may buy some day) and provide for children whenever they arrive on the scene. And once you have that initial plan in place, you can easily update it as your circumstances and needs change.

Furthermore, if you already have a sizable amount of assets then estate planning may lead to tax benefits, now and in the future.

Who Can Make Decisions For Me, If I Can’t?

In the U.S., a power of attorney (POA) is a legal document that designates someone else (often a spouse) to make financial and other decisions on your behalf. In the financial realm, a POA can manage your finances if you are unable to do so, sign contracts, file lawsuits on your behalf, and more. Depending on the exact language, you can grant the POA broad powers, or something more limited to an issue or situation.

What Kind of Care Would I Want?

An advanced directive (healthcare power of attorney and/or living will) is a document that makes clear the kinds of medical interventions you’d prefer if you’re unable to make decisions for yourself, including life-prolonging procedures if you have a terminal condition. In some ways, think of this as an emotional insurance policy. You make decisions now, so the people you love won’t be left to do so completely on their own during a stressful time. This can also make it easier for your spouse to make decisions if necessary, as long as you name them as a medical decision maker.

Who Will Look After The Kids?

If you don’t yet have kids but want them someday, realize that an estate plan is essential for families with children, so that they are provided for after you’re gone. When it comes to guardianship, you need a will to designate caregivers for the children, should something happen to both parents. Without a will, the court decides on the children’s caregiver, and the court may select someone you don’t want. You should also nominate guardians in the event that both parents become incapacitated. A will is effective only upon death, so it will not apply during incapacity.

As you start your new life together, one of the best ways to begin is by planning for the future, and whatever it may bring. We enjoy walking newlyweds through the estate planning process, which is much easier initially than for couples with more complex, developed financial and family situations. Contact us today to get started on a plan for your future.