Wedding season is upon us and we are often asked how getting married will affect someone’s estate plan. The legal ramifications of getting married can be complex, especially when planning for a blended family. For example, clients will often want to provide for a surviving spouse, but also ensure that their estate ultimately goes to each of their separate children.
When a spouse is jointly titled on real estate, bank account, or investment, or you have named a spouse as a beneficiary, that asset will go to the spouse. This sort of designation would even trump a Will or trust. In certain plans, it is advisable to use these beneficiary designations to direct assets to a spouse or a couple’s separate children. This allows the first deceased spouse to be assured a part of their estate goes where it was intended.
Be aware that even if the agreement among the family is that the accounts or investments will be kept separate, and even if a Will states this, the surviving spouse has certain rights, unless those rights were waived. For example, under Indiana law, the spouse can take a survivor’s allowance (currently $25,000), and make an election on as much as 1/2 of the balance of the estate. A spouse could choose not to pursue these rights or if proper planning is done, could waive them pursuant to a premarital agreement.
Even if a husband and wife sign a Will together, with few exceptions, it can still be changed after the first spouse’s death. Oftentimes a surviving spouse has the total control of what happens with the estate at the second death. This could very possibly result in a disinheritance of the children of the first spouse who dies.
Young couples should also consider creating or updating an estate plan upon marriage. Without a Will or trust, it is not presumed that the estate will be left to the surviving spouse, even if that was the decedent’s intention. For example, assets left in the sole name of the deceased spouse would be left 1/2 to the surviving spouse and 1/2 to the children, or in the absence of children, to surviving parents. Having a proper plan, including a simple Will or trust would often be sufficient to direct that the estate goes where it was intended.
If you were contemplating getting married, or if recently married, and do not have an estate plan, you should consult with an attorney and a financial advisor to make sure that your plan is in place in the event of a death.
Contact Voelz, Reed, & Mount, LLC in Columbus for help with Marriage and Estate planning.