Beginning the estate planning process is not always something people like to consider, but it is something that everyone, and especially married couples, needs to do. For married couples, the basic issues that your estate plan will have to address will be very much the same as those confronted by single people. However, because you are in a relationship and many of your estate planning choices will affect your spouse, there are some issues you might want to spend a little more time discussing before you make any final decisions.
When married couples in California craft an estate plan, one of the main issues their plan will focus on is the question of inheritances. How do you want to leave your property after you die? Who do you want to give inheritances to? How much should you give? When you are married, all of these questions have to be made in light of a significant restriction.
In general, you are free to make whatever inheritance choices you wish. However, when you are married, each spouse in the relationship is automatically entitled to receive an inheritance from the other upon that spouse’s death. In other words, though you can choose to give whatever inheritances you like, you cannot choose to disinherit a spouse.
For some couples, the issue of spousal inheritance is not a big deal. Couples who have enough to ensure that each will be protected should the other die can often choose to waive their spousal inheritance rights if they believe it’s more important to give inheritances to others.
On the other hand, couples that are worried about providing for one another should they die can give one another broader inheritance rights over and above the spousal share.
Making the right inheritance choices all depends on your situation and your desires, which is why discussing the issue is so important for married couples.
Married couples also need to address the question of what they want to happen should one or both of them become incapacitated. This question is especially important for senior citizens or couples with young children.
For example, if you are a senior and get diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, will you want your spouse to have the responsibility to make decisions for you when you no longer can? What if your spouse is of a similar age and losing his or her capacity?
Similarly, if you have young children and both you and your spouse become incapacitated, who will you want to take care of your children?
There is no single answer to any of these questions, but they are issues that you need to talk about if you are married.
The best way to address these issues is to consult with an experienced and qualified estate planning attorney.