Many married couples put off their estate planning, believing that their spouses will naturally inherit their property if something goes wrong. Unfortunately, they do not realize that New York State laws will not always do what is best for a surviving spouse. If you are married and do not have a plan in place, you could accidentally leave your assets to the wrong person or disinherit your spouse—forcing your family to go through expensive litigation after your death.
Reasons to Create or Update Your Estate Plan After Marriage
Your wedding day is not just a milestone in your life, it is one of the major events that can affect your estate plan. If you rely on your new partner as a close advisor, fellow homeowner, and parent to your children, it is important that your estate plan reflects these wishes.
Your marriage certificate is not enough to ensure that your spouse will have authority over your:
- Healthcare choices. Most people trust their spouse to make decisions about medical care if they are suddenly incapacitated. However, if you do not have certain documents in your file naming your spouse as your healthcare proxy, someone else may be appointed to make these decisions for you. Your spouse may even be denied access to your medical records and the ability to speak with your doctors about your treatment.
- Shared residence. If only one spouse is listed as the owner on the deed to your family home, the property will have to go through probate when the owner dies. Adding your spouse’s name to the property allows the house to pass automatically to the surviving owner while protecting the home from creditors and inheritance taxes.
- Life insurance benefits. Some assets can be passed directly to your chosen beneficiary after your death without the need for probate. The balances of your life insurance policies, bank accounts, pensions, and IRAs will go to whomever you have named as the beneficiary on the account. If you have not named a beneficiary (or failed to update this designation after marriage), your spouse may not be able to access these funds.
- Financial well-being. If you do not appoint someone to collect your paychecks and pay bills if you suddenly become incapacitated, your family members will have to go to court to take control of your finances. We can help you establish financial power of attorney to ensure that your spouse has the right to make money-related decisions on your behalf.
- Business matters. If you have significant wealth or own high-value assets, your spouse may be forced to pay high estate taxes upon your passing. In these cases, it may be best to create a trust to hold your property during your lifetime. By listing your spouse as successor trustee, assets in the trust can be distributed to your loved ones after your death without the need for probate.
- Relatives’ wishes. It is not uncommon for surviving spouses and a deceased person’s family to disagree on what the deceased would have wanted. Some relatives may suddenly appear asking for money or property that the deceased allegedly promised to them. By creating a comprehensive estate plan, you will be able to set down in writing exactly what you want and where your property will go after your passing.
- Final arrangements. Couples often trust their surviving spouse to arrange their funeral services, pay their final taxes, and distribute their property to their heirs. However, if your spouse has not been named as the executor to the estate, someone else may be legally bound to complete these duties.
Our estate planning attorneys have seen the tragedies that can happen when documents do not take each person’s unique needs and circumstances into account. If you created your Will when you were single or do not have a Will at all, your spouse will be at risk until your estate plan is brought up-to-date.
At Landskind & Ricaforte Law Group, P.C., we take a practical approach to difficult problems—allowing you and your family to make decisions with confidence. If you have questions about your future, fill out our quick contact form or call us to learn how we can help you with a custom-made estate plan.