Second marriages…or even third or fourth marriages…are increasingly common these days.
In fact, a U.S. Census study found that at least one spouse is remarrying in 36% of weddings.
If you’re getting remarried…or your future spouse is…there’s a major detail that was probably omitted from the wedding planning.
Your estate plan.
And if you don’t take care of this before your second (or third or fourth) marriage, the consequences for you, your new spouse and your (and their) children can be huge. At best, just a major headache. At worst, any or all of you could end up spending a lot of money for attorneys.
- Both spouses have children from previous marriages. One brings more financial assets into the new marriage than the other.
- One spouse is previously divorced. In the eyes of the law, the divorce decree supplants any pre-existing estate plan.
- One of you is older than the other and has adult children covered by your previous will. They are concerned that their inheritance will end up going to the new spouse.
These are just a few possibilities. And if you don’t have an estate plan in place for the new marriage, your wishes could end up in legal limbo if you die or become incapacitated.
Like snowflakes, second marriage scenarios are all different. There’s no “one size fits all” solution. But a little work now with your estate planner and attorney can save everyone legal headaches if something unfortunate happens.
Here are some specific things you should think about:
#1. Be Clear About Your Wishes
There are three sets of people your estate plan needs to be specific about:
- Your future spouse
- Any minor children (yours and hers from previous marriages plus any you have together)
- Adult children…they may have “hidden” legal rights that could supplant the subsequent spouse’s rights
And be aware that a divorce decree supersedes your previous will if any assets are left to your previous spouse.
#2. Update your beneficiaries
You should change the primary beneficiary for your life insurance and retirement policies from your previous spouse to your new spouse.
To make minor children your beneficiaries, you will generally need to create a trust.
Adult children can be named as beneficiaries, but ERISA (the federal law which regulates retirement plans) may require that your new spouse sign a waiver first.
#3. Decide if you want your assets separate or combined
With a second marriage, both of you may have financial assets like property or investments.
If neither of you has minor children, the easiest solution may be to keep everything before your marriage separate. In the eyes of the law, of course, everything that comes after the wedding is considered community property unless you have a prenuptial agreement.
However, there may be reasons to combine your pre-marriage property. It’s usually good to have an expert advise you before you make any decisions.
#4. Think about your future health care needs
Does either of you have any potential long-term health concerns like cancer or dementia? If either or both of you are approaching or at retirement age or beyond, you could face increasing health care costs in the foreseeable future.
Long-term care can be expensive…even if it’s just assistance with basic daily tasks. You need to make sure you and your new spouse will have the financial assets you need to be able to cover those future expenses.
#5. What about May-December marriages?
These things happen. Older men marry younger women the second time around…and vice versa.
In these cases, your estate plan should account for one of you living longer than the other.
What’s the bottom line?
First marriages are usually simple. You’re both starting out without many assets. Everything gets shared.
Most second marriages are a little messier. One or both of you have may have assets from your first marriage. Not to mention either minor or adult children. If you’re divorced, some of your assets may be affected by your divorce settlement.
A little planning can save your family unnecessary stress if you die or become incapacitated.
Before you say “I do” for the second time, consult a qualified estate planning attorney. They can ensure that your wishes are respected if the unforeseen happens.
Getting remarried? I can help you ensure your estate plan remains up-to-date.
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