When you are married, you start putting your own interests aside and consider what is best for both you and your spouse. Every time you make a decision, you must consider what is best for you, your spouse and any children you may have. Estate planning greatly impacts your family’s future and is one of the most important decisions you make together as a couple. Thoughtful estate planning is especially important for the well being of blended families –those comprised of a step-parent and step- or half-siblings.
For example, one scenario that typically occurs in a blended family upon the death of one spouse is that their significant other, their children, and step-children fight over the decedent’s estate. In order to avoid such a scenario, and other variations on that theme, we recommend you take careful measures in planning your estate and your spouse’s.
As touched upon in a Forbes article earlier this year, one initial issue couples must confront is figuring out whether they should get their own attorneys for estate planning purposes. Most couples consider it safe to share everything, including legal representation. However, as efficient joint representation may be –in terms of cost, time saving and mutual trust- it can also make things unpleasant for a couple in some cases, especially if husband and wife have underlying trouble (e.g., communication problems).
When you have your own attorney separate from your spouse, you may once again put your own interests first. Having your own attorney will provide you with the freedom to speak of your own personal concerns and desires without taking into consideration those of your partner. Individual representation particularly helps when there are conflicting interests, as is often the case in blended families.
Here are a few things to consider when deciding whether you should plan your estate with your spouse or alone:
1. Only one party has children
Most people plan on leaving their estate to their children. Sometimes things can get ugly if they marry someone who doesn’t have children. For example, if the parent dies first, the “chlidless” spouse can disinherit the children. You can make it easy to address such a risk in your planning by reaching out to estate planning attorneys, even if this means seeking representation separate and apart from your spouse.
2. The length of the marriage
This is factor to consider; the shorter the relationship, the greater the likelihood you and your spouse may have conflicting goals for your estate and separate attorneys may be warranted.
3. Disparities in income
On the one hand, some couples manage easily to share their assets and liabilities. On the other hand, if one spouse is economically dependent on the other, estate planning can be most difficult. The wishes of the spouse with less or no income may not be adequately considered in joint representation.
4. One of the spouses makes the decisions
When one party dominates the couple’s daily interactions, this is a red flag for estate planning. Both spouses’ interest should be well taken into consideration when planning their estate. If you feel like your interest might not be adequately considered, you should have your own attorney.
5. A large age gap
It might be hard to discuss such circumstances with your significant other, but it is important. When there is a large gap in age between husband and wife, each often has different plans and priorities with regard to the estate, and it is often hard to reconcile their interests. Therefore, the greater the age difference, the greater potential for each individual to need their own representation.
These and similar considerations are often not easy to discuss with family members. To receive help with the process in our area, please consider contacting a San Diego estate planning lawyer.