As newlyweds who have recently completed planning for your wedding and honeymoon, you may not feel like beginning the serious work of creating a robust estate plan just yet. It’s undeniable that finding a well-respected estate planning attorney to help you prepare essential legal documents is not likely to be as much fun as choosing a menu, music, and floral arrangements for a wedding celebration. Nonetheless, it is more than likely that the former will have a much greater impact on your life as a married couple than the latter.
Tip #1: Don’t Procrastinate About Creating an Estate Plan
There are several important reasons not to let time pass without taking the necessary steps to protect your finances, including:
- It is considerably easier to organize your budget, bank accounts, investments, and tax records at the beginning of your marriage than to disentangle your collective assets later.
- The clearer an understanding you both have of your finances, the better prepared you will be to make wise decisions about spending, saving, and investing moving forward.
- Most important, even the immediate future is not only unknown but unpredictable. Better to provide yourselves with a safety net now than to endure a calamitous fall later.
Tip #2: Change Beneficiaries on Pertinent Documents
Now that you are married, you will each want to make sure that your spouse is the beneficiary for any of the following:
- Life insurance policies
- Bank accounts (e.g. checking, savings
- Retirement Accounts (e.g. 401k, IRA)
- Property titles (in some cases)
- Investments (stocks, bonds, mutual funds)
- Military Benefits
Tip #3: Share Information With One Another About Important Papers and Vital Passwords
Since there is always the possibility that one of you will be away from home or unavailable when documents and data have to be presented, this is the time to decide where important documents and passwords should be kept to ensure that both of you will have access to them. Such critical documents include:
- Birth certificates
- Marriage certificate
- Citizenship documentation
- Divorce decree (from previous marriages)
- Child-related documents (e.g. adoption or guardianship papers)
- Military ID/discharge papers
- Prenuptial or postnuptial agreement
- Social Security cards
Because we all have so many electronic devices now, it is also necessary that you both share passwords with your spouse for:
- Cell phones
- Home Security System
One simple way to accomplish this is to create a password manager and make sure that both of you have the master password.
Tip #4: Have Your Attorney Draft New Documents or Revise Existing Ones
If you are marrying at a young age, you might not have thought yet about how your incapacity or death would affect loved ones. Having established a small family unit that may grow, it is your responsibility to do so. If you are older and/or have been married before, you may already have some or all of the documents listed below that must now be updated:
- Last Will & Testament to name your beneficiaries, personal representative, and guardian for any minor children
- Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) to designate the individual you choose to handle your financial and legal matters if you become incapacitated
- Health Care Proxy to name the person you want to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so
- Advance Directive/Living Will to state your wishes about which treatments you do or do not want to be administered if you are at the end of your life (e.g. after a catastrophic accident)
Along with these necessary documents, you should now make certain that you have a life insurance policy to provide enough coverage for your spouse and any children should the worst happen. It should be noted that both spouses should have this coverage since your present living arrangements are probably based on your collective income.
Tip #5: Share the Love
While your estate planning attorney may explain some circumstances in which keeping particular funds or property separate may be wise in terms of taxes or other considerations, generally speaking, marriage is about sharing. Most newlyweds can save time and money by having joint accounts, using family plans, and making purchases as a couple, for example by:
- Opening joint banking accounts
- Consolidating credit cards
- Using the health insurance policy that works best for both spouses (there is often a special enrollment period just after marriage)
- Purchasing car insurance from the same company will typically save you money
- Subscribing to the same mobile phone plan
- Re-titling property ownership (though, as noted above, this is not always the case)
Tip #6: Choose Your Estate Planning Attorney Wisely
Make sure to consider credentials and reliable recommendations when choosing the lawyer who will help you navigate the estate planning process. An accomplished estate planning attorney will know precisely which steps to take to protect your assets as they accumulate and to protect one another from financial difficulties that may surface at any time, due to an illness, a job loss, an accident, a lawsuit, a scam, or a death in the family.
If you’re newly married, creating an estate plan should be a priority since it lays the financial foundation for your life together. The most important tip we can give you is that estate planning requires the knowledge, training, and experience that only an estate planning attorney can provide. Taking the long view and engaging the services of a highly capable professional will save you time, money, and stress and get your marriage off on the right foot.