There are lots of fun ways to build and celebrate a marriage. You can plan weddings and anniversaries. You can create holidays together. You can even commemorate each marriage milestone with a tradition known only to the two of you.
You can also start thinking about estate planning.
We know. It doesn’t sound very fun. The last thing any couple wants to think about is what will happen if and when one of you passes away—and the idea of spending your next Saturday night with an estate lawyer is hardly the rollicking good time you had in mind. However, this is one area where it pays to plan ahead.
The life you’re building together is too valuable and too precious to leave anything left to chance. By making the important and difficult decisions now, you can avoid many of the difficulties that occur after a sudden loss.
Why should couples do estate planning together?
If you don’t have a lot of assets and don’t have children yet, it might seem silly to worry about how to divide your money after you die. After all, the default is that everything goes to your spouse, so they should be taken care of, right?
Yes and no. While your spouse will stand as next of kin for most decisions and disbursements, there are still many reasons why estate planning for couples is important.
1. Health care directives
These documents (also known as a Living Will) determine what kind of medical treatments you’re willing to undergo if you aren’t in a position to make your own decisions.
This can be very important when it comes to things like life support since the decision whether or not to end a life can be catastrophic on a spouse.
2. End-of-life planning
This determines what you want to be done with your body after you die, up to and including paying for the funeral. This can really help your spouse with the emotional overload that occurs in these situations, and also allows you to purchase things like side-by-side gravesites.
3. Easier access to money
When no formal plans have been made, getting paid by life insurance companies, bank accounts, retirement funds, and other financial institutions can take weeks, months, or even years after death occurs.
Ensure your spouse has access to the money they need by making advance plans that ease this process and allow you to skip the period of probate.
4. Children and pets
This is one area where couples really need to focus—not just on guardianship of dependents if one of you dies, but if both of you pass away and leave your children and pets behind.
Naming guardians, making financial preparations for their care, and making sure everyone is comfortable with the decisions is essential.
Your family deserves to be taken care of after you die, and this is the best way to do it.
How to get started estate planning
Of course, knowing that you should plan your estate and actually be sitting down to do it are two different things. That’s why we recommend that you set aside your next date night to tackle the important questions—with or without an estate lawyer as a third wheel.
Depending on how many assets you have and where you are in the process of building your family, you may or may not need outside legal advice.
Wills, trusts, and end-of-life directives typically require a legal professional to sign off on them.
Insurance policies are often taken out through specialty life insurance providers or your current insurance company.
And funeral plans can be carried out through the cemetery and/or funeral home of your choice.
Even if all you do during this first attempt at estate planning is to talk over what you want and how you want to proceed, it’s a great way to get the ball rolling. Like most things in marriage, communication and planning are key—and so is having your spouse by your side every step of the way.