After losing a spouse or longtime partner, it's difficult to look past your grief. However, it's crucial to understand the important and timely decisions you must make regarding your finances and personal estate plan.
An estate plan that is comprehensive requires careful thought and discussion with your spouse. Before meeting with an estate planning attorney, it is best to discuss your ideas to present a united goal. This conversation can be challenging if you and your loved one have different points of view about your future and the legacy you will leave behind. Suppose you have a blended family; how do you choose to provide for them? There is a lot to process with many emotional topics regarding your mortality, being fair to children, and more.
First, you must decide what elements in an estate plan are most important to you. Once you have a clear idea, you can readily communicate your needs and identify avenues of compromise. At the start of your discussion, state some clear objectives to promote a positive and productive conversation.
Children in Blended Families
Some couples will agree on family beneficiaries, although a blended family with stepchildren may find it challenging. Looking at the big picture first and then fleshing out details can help minimize any tension. There will be back and forth as you craft your ideas and negotiate priorities. Even if you don’t agree on everything, you can discuss why certain elements are crucial to you and openly discuss your point of view until you reach a compromise.
A Partners Rights of Survivorship
Rights of survivorship will not automatically go to an unmarried partner. Because of this, it is critical to create an estate plan specifically addressing how to provide for your loved one. Holding your home as joint tenants gives the surviving partner full ownership of the property. Some payable on death accounts and other designated beneficiary accounts like IRAs or 401(k)s will pass outside probate and be paid to them directly. However, in the absence of a will and other estate plans, the surviving partner often has no legal rights to automatic inheritance. It can be contested.
Setting the Stage for Your Talk
Choosing the right time and place for a serious conversation can lead to a positive discussion. The best circumstances for a talk are different for each couple. Be sure the environment isn’t full of unfinished chores or lots of activities that can sidetrack your estate planning intentions. If you meet resistance to future planning, talk about why you believe estate planning is important to protect yourselves and your family.
Take some general notes and stay open to your partner’s or spouse’s perspective. Avoid being judgemental. If the meeting begins to focus on how you disagree, take a break and give yourself some time to reflect on those issues and revisit the topics when frustration levels are lower. Your estate planning attorney, who understands the best way to structure your estate and is a neutral third party, may be able to help resolve some sticking points later. Continue to focus on the areas where you can agree.
Responsible Estate Planning Takes Time
You will need to craft a will, power of attorney, living will, and healthcare proxy. Some couples will require trusts and insurance policies as part of their estate plan. Your estate plan will cover asset preservation, management, and distribution after you die. It will identify those individuals who will act on your behalf to close your estate properly. If you become incapacitated, your properties, financial obligations, and medical wishes will be clear.
If you already have an estate plan in place, don’t forget the importance of reviewing your documents every couple of years or when family circumstances change surrounding births, deaths, marriage, and divorce. If there are substantial financial changes, it is also wise to review how you plan to address these ups and downs.
While it can be uncomfortable for some couples to broach estate planning, it is a crucial step toward securing your future together and your family’s legacy after you are gone. Approach conversations with a positive attitude and problem-solving spirit. Let your estate planning attorney review and guide your process to create an estate plan well-suited to your life and wishes.