It’s sometimes surprising to see how many people get remarried and all but ignore how that new union affects estate planning. Several new studies have once again reminded us of just how important that update can be for ensuring that your estate plan reflects your present reality and future needs. And with remarriage a common occurrence in the United States, Americans need that reminder more than ever before. The fact is that one of the first things that any new married couple should do is sit down with an attorney and review any existing estate plans to determine what needs updating.
Some might consider this a meaningless worry, but nothing could be further from the truth. Just a cursory review of the facts reveals that Americans’ estate plans represent a growing challenge for estate resolution, as many have been lax in preparing for their future needs. The latest studies and surveys reveal that the nation’s adults don’t appear to be taking their own estate planning as seriously as they should.
For example, a survey from earlier this year estimated that nearly two-thirds of Americans – 63 percent – do not have a will. That’s even higher than most recent estimates, which have assumed that somewhere around 45% of the nation’s adults had wills. If accurate, this latest survey paints an even more discouraging picture of the state of the country’s estate planning efforts. And given the 2013 Pew Research Center report indicating that about 40% of all marriages involved at least one partner who had been previously married, it’s not difficult to imagine that many of the relatively few wills out there are hopelessly outdated.
How Bad Could It Be?
It’s important to understand just how complicated a second marriage can become when you factor estate plan issues into the equation. There can be issues with the former spouse, and problems related to inheritances for any children from the former union. For children, a parent’s new spouse can represent a direct threat to inheritances when estate plans are not properly managed. In so-called blended families, those issues can become even more challenging.
The last thing you want as a spouse and a parent is to die and have your estate become a source of conflict and controversy for your loved ones. Do you want your current spouse, former spouse, and children all battling over your assets rather than helping one another through the grieving process? If not, then the experts recommend that you act now to prevent that catastrophe from occurring.
The good news is that there are affirmative actions that you can take to address the remarriage issue in a positive way. Just consider some of these common-sense solutions that can help you avoid many of those concerns:
- Get a will. Don’t tell yourself that you don’t need one, or put it off for so long that you never get around to it. Make an appointment with an estate planning attorney and create your Last Will and Testament. That will help to ensure that your spouse and children receive exactly what you want them to have, rather than what the state’s intestacy laws say they are entitled to receive.
- Consider a bypass trust if you’re concerned that your new spouse might get assets that you want to go to your children. Other trusts may benefit you as well, so consult with your estate planning attorney to see which options will work best for your needs.
- If you have a will, update it. To be effective, it needs to accurately reflect your life and plans as they currently exist – not as they were during your previous marriage.
- Create power of attorney and any needed health care directives to guard against incapacity. If you already have these documents in place, then you need to update them if you want to ensure that you have the right agent listed.
- Update asset titles to ensure that they are correct. Remember, if you and your former spouse owned the home as joint tenants and that status hasn’t been changed, then that could present problems for your new spouse if you die. Make sure that bank account designations, stocks and bonds, and other assets have the right transfer-on-death designations as well.
- Review your life insurance policy beneficiary designations and make any necessary alterations.
Don’t make the mistake of relying on verbal instructions that you might have given to family members. While those instructions might seem important to you, they have no binding effect after you die and are notoriously difficult to prove or enforce. Instead, make sure that you have an updated and comprehensive estate plan that accurately reflects your wishes and needs. These concerns need to be addressed at some point, since new blended families represent a whole new set of estate planning challenges.
Keep in mind that these issues can be extremely complex, especially in instances where there are children from previous marriages. In many blended families, both spouses may have children from prior marriages. That too can complicate estate planning, since there is typically a desire to ensure that the needs of all the children are properly addressed. To ensure that your estate plan is created and updated to meet your needs, rely on the experience that a competent estate planning attorney can provide.
At Fouts Law Group, LLC, our estate planning experts have been helping families just like yours deal with these complex concerns for many years, and we can help you find the solutions you need to properly manage your estate plan needs. Remarriages always present new and unique challenges for any estate planning effort, but those challenges also represent an opportunity to reflect on an existing plan and modify it to meet new goals. We’ll work with you to ensure that your effort to create the right estate plan for your family is as successful as possible. To learn more about how we can help you with your estate plan update needs, contact us online or give us a call at (678) 242-8344.
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