When was the last time you and your spouse discussed your estate planning? We know it is probably not on your list of “date night” conversations. In fact, many of our friends, family, and even professionals we work with tell us that once they create their estate plan, they consider it finalized and do not plan to ever make changes to their planning documents.
Unfortunately, this can be a mistake. It is also antiquated thinking. We live in a world today where things change in a blink of an eye; just think about the technology in your house and you’ll know it’s true. More so than technology, though, your needs change, and so will the needs of your family as you grow together and life happens.
While it may be difficult at first, changing your mindset to incorporate regular check-ins on your pre-existing plans is a critical step forward in protecting yourself and those you love most. Making updates as needed, for financial, health care or legacy reasons, can become a good habit over time. This is one you especially want to avoid breaking when you have minor children.
As challenging as it can be to think about, there may come a time when your spouse passes away and you are left to care for your children. If you have an estate plan in place that you created together, the next steps are mostly prepared for and planned out. If you do not, however, or it is so out-of-date you do not know what it says, you may be faced with unanswered questions and worries during an already difficult time.
As attorneys, parents, and spouses ourselves, we know just how important it is to have this conversation and set plans in motion. We also know how hard it can be to get started. That is why we want to share with you three questions that you and your spouse may use as conversation starters:
1. Do you have any pre-existing planning documents?
This is a good place to start. Consider whether you and your spouse have either jointly or separately created your estate plan. For example, was it created before you were married? Have you had another child in the meantime? Has it been over one year since you evaluated them? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, it may be time to evaluate any changes to your circumstances and determine if any updates need to be made. You may wish to rely on your estate planning attorney at this stage of the conversation. He or she may present planning options you have not thought about that address your unique needs.
2. Do you have access to each other’s accounts?
Making sure you have access to those hard to reach places, like safety deposit boxes and bank accounts, as well as passwords for online bill payments and email accounts is crucial. If you do not have access to your spouse’s accounts, you may find yourself in a situation where you are having difficulty paying bills and receiving important information in the event of his or her death. Digital assets continue to evolve and become more complicated as new laws emerge. It is critical that your estate plan contemplates these issues and evolves over time.
3. Do you or your spouse eventually plan to remarry?
We understand this may be an awkward topic to discuss, but it is important to at least consider the possibility that you or your spouse may wish to remarry in the future in the event of a death and what that may look like. Planning for this ahead of time can allow you to secure funds for your children’s health, education, maintenance, and support, as well to discuss any concerns or logistics surrounding the inclusion of a new spouse and a blended family.
Do you have questions about this or need further advice on how best to start the conversation? Have ideas you could share with us? Do not wait to learn more and find the support you need when planning to protect yourself and your loved ones.
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Kevin Snyder is a husband, father, and an Orange County estate planning attorney at Snyder Law, PC in Irvine, California. He’s all about family and passionate about estate planning, elder law, and veterans. He founded Snyder Law to help families from Orange County, Los Angeles County, and Southern California plan to protect what matters most: their loved ones, their dignity, and their legacy.