A couple looking ahead toward marriage is excited about new beginnings. As they embark on their life together, they have happy thoughts of putting down roots, starting a family and celebrating good times. Understandably, endings rarely come to mind, but newlyweds are wise to spend some time on estate planning and creating a will.
Fewer than half of American adults have a will. Why? Most say they simply haven't gotten around to it. But it's best not to procrastinate. A will is a critically important document that determines how your assets will be distributed to the people in your life in the event of your death.
Here are 5 reasons why it's so important that if you're getting married to get a will:
- Your situation is unique. If you do not have a will, the state you live in at the time of your death will effectively write one for you, through the intestacy statutes. These are the default, statutory provisions that apply when you do not write a will, and do not take into account the specifics of your assets, or the differing needs of the people and organizations that are important to you.
- Protect your new spouse. In some states, including Delaware, your spouse does not automatically receive title to real estate that you own in your sole name, even if you have lived in the home together for decades. A will can make certain that your spouse receives the amount and type of assets that he or she will need after your death.
- Protect your children. A will can designate guardians for children who are minors, or put aside funds in a trust account to help provide for their care. Where there are children from prior to the marriage, a will can specify family heirlooms, bank accounts, or other assets that will go to the children from your previous relationship.
- Provide for persons with disabilities. A person receiving means-tested government benefits (such as SSI) may be disqualified if they receive an inheritance. There are estate-planning tools, including special needs trusts (also called supplemental needs trusts) that can provide needed funds without jeopardizing other needed benefits.
- Avoid disputes. A good estate plan reduces the likelihood of disputes among beneficiaries over who receives money or property.
While many websites offer online tools for creating do-it-yourself wills, few families have a financial situation so simple that they don't need a lawyer. When you consider hiring an attorney, you should be sure the lawyer is knowledgeable about all aspects of estate planning. The attorney must be able to guide you through the planning process and make sure all short- and long-term needs are met.
Since laws change frequently, it's a good idea for you to meet with your estate lawyer every five years. Any time a significant life change occurs - the birth of a child, a death in the family that has a financial impact, or a milestone such as retirement - is a good time to review the will.
A well-crafted estate plan allows you to fulfill your wishes for preserving the estate and distributing your assets to the people you love. As you head toward marriage, establishing a will that ensures a satisfying ending helps you enjoy your new beginnings to the fullest.