Estate Planning: Just Married

Married couples have more built-in protections than unmarried couples. For example, provided both are U.S. citizens, they can leave each other at death (or transfer to each other while alive) an unlimited amount of property without worrying about estate or gift taxes. And, if a couple has neither children nor wills, the surviving spouse can automatically inherit all of a dead spouse’s property depending on how it is titled.

This often provides married couples with an excuse to postpone planning until they have kids. That’s a mistake. For example, the seven-year legal battle between Terri Schiavo’s husband and her parents. Schiavo slipped into a coma at age 27. A court named her husband her guardian, but since she hadn’t signed a living will, her parents were able to delay his decision to remove her feeding tube for years. She died in 2005, after the tube was removed.

Less dramatically, Arkansas law governs what happens to your assets if you die without a plan. The children of the deceased get the first bite at the apple. This can be a big issue if you have kids from a previous marriage and they do not like your new spouse. If you have no kids, then the spouse gets your estate. However, if you have been married less than 3 years, then your spouse is only entitled to 50% of your estate and the other 50% goes to your parents. If you want to ensure you can care for your new spouse, then a plan that does so is necessary.