Congrats! You found that person, the one, that sparkle in your eye, your person, AND, you got married! Nothing beats that feeling of knowing you’re starting a life together with someone you love. YAY! Now it’s time to think about the less romantic, less sexy aspect of marriage, the logistics. It’s unlikely you’re thinking about an estate plan right after getting hitched, but you should be!
Oftentimes people assume that if they’re married they don’t need an estate plan because everything will go to their spouse. The reality of it is, if you ask an attorney an open-ended question like “Do I need an estate plan if I’m married?”, you’ll likely get an open ended answer. The truth is, it depends. Whether or not you and your spouse need an estate plan depends on a lot of variables.
Here are some things to think about when thinking about if you need an estate plan right now or not.
Are you a young couple that has no assets of their own?
If you’re a young, well, at least young-ish, couple that has no assets such as a business, your own home, then having an estate plan probably isn’t as crucial for you as it would be for someone who has more complicated assets (like a business or kids).
That being said, it’s always a good idea to have an estate plan because you may still have things in your life that you should have a plan for, for example the power of attorney or health care directive, in case something happened to you or your spouse.
Do you and your spouse own a business? Together? Separately?
If you are a couple that has children, owns a business, owns real estate, whether it’s separately or together doesn’t matter, you ABSOLUTELY need an estate plan.
All of these things are highly valuable and considered high value assets, you want to avoid probate (when the state comes in and handles your assets) by creating an estate plan.
An estate plan also gives a road map on how those assets are distributed. Some businesses are multi-generational and they may not want a spouse inheriting the business, they may want it to go to a niece/nephew, a sibling, or another family member.
If you own a business, or really have any valuable assets, make sure that you and your spouse have an estate plan. This is something that can be updated and changed as life continues to evolve. Don’t wait until it’s too late, the time to plan for the unexpected is today.
Did you know that without an estate plan California (or whatever state you may live in) determines how your assets will be split?
You may think that since you’re married, it doesn’t matter if you have an estate plan or not because everything will just go to your spouse anyway, but it does matter.
In the state of California, if something happens to you or your spouse and there is no estate plan, the state determines how your assets will be split. This is called intestate succession and the Probate Code says how your assets are distributed. To ensure the government stays out of your business, it’s best to come up with a plan! Otherwise, the court decides who will be your estates administrator, who will be the guardian for your minor children (if applicable), etc. etc. If you have kids, anyone can appeal to the court for guardianship of them, how scary is that? You want your kids to be left to people you want them to be left with.
The only way to avoid that from happening is to have all your business in order, laid out in legal documents, to be as clear and as concise as possible. This will help make everyone’s life easier, especially during a time of immense grief.
Who handles your finances if something happens to you?
If something happens to you and your spouse, who takes care of your kids? How do they get financially supported? Adding a will and a trust to your estate plan is a great way to ensure someone has the ability to financially support your family in the case of a death.
In general, if you’re married, you do need an estate plan. Sure, there are some instances where it may not be as necessary, the reality of it is, we could all benefit from having a road map of our last wishes so those grieving us don’t have to make those tough decisions or deal with it.
What happens to your legacy or your spouse if you don’t have a road map to navigate the unexpected? There is so much in life that we can’t control, we may as well have a plan for what happens after life. Don’t assume your spouse is automatically protected if something happens to you. Keep your loved ones future protected, the way you want.
Jessica Henman, Attorney at Law, is based in Chico, California (born and raised in fact) and is here to help out anyone in California. Give me a call at (530) 520-3109 or email me to set-up a time to talk about getting the right estate plan, trust, wills, and other documents for your family. Whether you’re a family with young kids or a family with grown ones, I can help you every step of the way.
I look forward to connecting with you! I’m here to help answer any questions you may have regarding estate plans.