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Estate Planning for a Second Marriage

Estate Planning

If you are entering into a second marriage or into a first marriage but already have significant assets or children from a previous relationship, you should strongly consider revisiting your estate plan. Estate planning is complicated enough without the additional considerations posed by blended families, and the best gift you can give your loved ones is a clear plan for what you want to happen if anything happens to you.

When someone is entering into a second marriage or a later-in-life marriage, they often do so after they have already had children, bought a house, started a business, created a retirement portfolio, or incurred debts (including student loans). Often, their new partner has also already experienced one or more of those life events. Creating or revising your estate plan is critical to minimize the confusion and stress that your loved ones experience if something happens to you.

Estate planning obviously includes deciding how your assets will be divided, usually by drafting a will or setting up a trust to manage your estate. When you already have children from another relationship, this piece should be handled carefully and thoughtfully, especially if you also intend to have children with your new partner. The default probate rules that apply if you do not have an estate plan in place often distinguish between your children and your stepchildren, and without a clear plan in place, the default rules as to how things pass to your spouse versus your children may also be contrary to your personal preferences. An estate planning attorney can help you understand your options so you can design a plan that works for your family.

Drafting a will or trust is only the beginning of what an estate plan can do for you and your family, though. Estate planning can also be used to designate who will make medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated, which can be particularly important once blended families become part of the mix. Designating that person in advance can help prevent your family and friends from fighting over who has that responsibility.

In your estate plan you can also explain your preferences regarding who should care for your children if something happens to you and can make sure they are cared for financially as well. Although your written wishes will not automatically control what happens with your children, they are one component that the court will consider when deciding what is in your children’s best interests, and they at least let your family members know your preferences so they can consider them as well.

An estate plan can also be used to protect your cherished pets and make sure they are loved and cared for when you are gone. This can include designating who will be responsible for your pets, but you can also set up a trust to help pay for their care and upkeep.

It is also becoming increasingly common for couples to enter into marital agreements (prenuptial agreements) as part of their second marriage. Marital agreements are essentially contracts between two adults that set forth the basic rules that will govern their finances while they are married. They can be used to protect certain assets in the event of a divorce, and they can also be used to set certain basic rules for what happens if one of the spouses dies while they are still married. Although a marital agreement should never take the place of a more comprehensive estate plan, they can guarantee certain basic protections, including what happens with the marital residence, a certain life insurance policy, or a particular asset that you want to make sure stays with the spouse who already owns it or is passed to the other spouse.

Getting married is an exciting time, but it is also a time of significant change in your life. We encourage you to think of it as an opportunity to do some planning for the future to protect yourself and your family from uncertainty.

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