Getting married? You need an estate plan

If you are getting married, planning your wedding and the honeymoon are probably the foremost things on your mind. On the contrary, you are probably not thinking about estate planning at all. Although it may seem like a morbid thing to do during such a happy and exciting time, making sure that a sound estate plan is in place for you and your new spouse is a great way to make sure that you are beginning a new life on a good foundation.

Changing beneficiaries

One of the first things that you may want to consider is changing your beneficiary designation on your assets that are not subject to probate. These assets include life insurance policies, retirement accounts and payable-on-death bank accounts. Instead of being controlled by your will, these accounts are distributed according to your beneficiary designation when you die, without the need of going through probate.

Powers of attorney

Although you are probably in good health now, it is possible that you will become incapacitated someday due to an injury or illness. In such a case, you spouse would not be able to manage your healthcare and financial affairs on your behalf. To facilitate this, it is necessary to draft a healthcare power of attorney. This document allows your spouse (or someone else) to access your medical records and make medical decisions in the event that you are unable to communicate your medical wishes.

To ensure that the person you choose knows your healthcare wishes, it is a wise decision to also have an advance medical directive (also called a living will). This document allows you to express your wishes regarding life-prolonging treatment (e.g. respirators, life-support) and other kinds of treatment in the event that you cannot communicate your decisions. The person making medical decisions on your behalf is bound by law to follow your wishes.

Additionally, you may want to consider executing a durable power of attorney. This allows you to appoint someone as your agent to manage your financial affairs in the event that you are incapacitated. Your agent may pay bills, enter into contracts and perform other tasks on your behalf that you grant him or her in the document.

Asset distribution

Finally, it is important for you and your new spouse to consider how your assets that are subject to probate (real estate, stocks, motor vehicles and personal belongings) are to be distributed in the event that one or both of you dies. If you plan to have children, it is important to ensure that they are taken care of. To ensure that this is done, estate planning can allow you to set up a trust that would provide income for the care of your children until they come of age.

If you are planning to have children, it is also vital that your estate plan names a guardian-someone to raise your children. Otherwise, this important decision would be left to the court, which may place your children with someone that you would not approve of.

Contact an attorney

Proper estate planning requires a consideration of many factors, several of which you may not have thought about. An experienced estate planning attorney can ensure that your estate plan addresses everything that is needed to carry out your final wishes and protect your long-term interests.