How married couples and domestic partners structure their estate plans can make the difference between whether a family stays connected or gets blown apart after the first spouse or partner passes away. Things can be even more complicated and volatile in blended families – when there are step and half siblings and stepparents in the mix.
One thing about life in the new millennium … it's complicated. Whether it is finances, taxes, gadgets or relationships, nothing is as it was in the “good old days” (whenever that was, if ever). So it is with estate planning for the modern family, how ever you define “family.”
For example, how should married couples plan for their estates? Separately or together? This issue was explored recently by Forbes in an article titled “Estate Planning For Couples: Should It Be A Solo Or A Duet?” Indeed, this question is one worthy of your consideration if you are married.
On the surface, married couples would seem to face fewer challenges when it comes to estate planning. Nevertheless, the applicable laws make a great number of assumptions that may not be applicable to you, your spouse, and your family. For instance, the interests of married persons might not so neatly dovetail as their love lives, as in the case of blended families.
In the blended family context, couples may disagree about how distribute their assets, and even to whom assets should be distributed. To make matters even more difficult, in the absence of a clear-cut premarital agreement, there can be considerable rancor regarding ownership of the separate (let alone marital) assets.
One fundamental consideration at the outset is the question of separate representation. In other words, are the latent difficulties or possible misunderstandings so substantial that each spouse ought to secure independent legal counsel? While this may, at first blush, invite confrontation, it need not.
In the main, a single attorney representing both parties after full disclosure of potential conflicts of interest and written waivers may be the most appropriate solution for a couple. As the article highlights, however, each case (just like each couple) is different and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
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Reference: Forbes (April 10, 2012) “Estate Planning For Couples: Should It Be A Solo Or A Duet?”