With each marriage comes new rights and responsibilities. If you already have an estate plan created when you were single, then you must update it to reflect your wedding vows.
Many married couples mistakenly believe that they can make personal, healthcare and financial decisions for one another should either spouse become legally incapacitated due to a serious injury or illness. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from reality!
Without proper estate planning to appoint your spouse as the incapacity decision-maker, he or she will not have immediate legal authority to make even fundamental decisions for you (or affecting both of you). For example, medical privacy laws will bar access to your medical records and the ability to consult with your attending physician. Financial laws limit control over your finances, and IRS regulations will prohibit filing a “legal” joint income tax return … for starters.
Unless you legally appoint the decision-maker of your own selection in advance through proper estate planning, then your spouse will be forced to file a probate proceeding to obtain a court order permitting them to act for you—and granting of that order may be subject to an objection. While the judge will likely appoint your spouse, the probate court process to accomplish this is expensive (it generally employs at least two attorneys and a medical expert), discloses your private personal and financial information to the court and is a real hassle for your spouse.
Did you know that in the absence of proper estate planning, your assets may be distributed after death based on “one-size-fits-all” state laws written for people who do not have their own estate plan? Of course, this impersonal estate plan written by state lawmakers may not reflect your own unique circumstances and objectives for your spouse and assets. In fact, depending on how you titled your premarital assets and how your beneficiary designations are arranged, you may disinherit your own spouse and force your spouse to sue your estate!
We find the “one-size-fits-all” estate plan incorporated into Utah’s laws rarely fit the desires of our clients. For more on this, see the Planning for Blended Families link on this website.
Fortunately, we can help you avoid probate and replace that impersonal, state-written, one-size-fits-all estate plan with one we design together for your unique circumstances and objectives. We even help you coordinate the beneficiary designations on your life insurance and retirement plans with your estate plan to avoid unpleasant, unintended consequences.