A recent article at Forbes.com highlighted some of the issues surround estate planning as a married couple. Getting your affairs in order is crucial to securing your family’s future. (And when blended families are involved, it’s especially important. If a parent remarries, all too often disputes arise following the death of a parent.)
The issue the Forbes article raised is an interesting one: should you work together with one attorney or should each of you get your own representation for estate planning purposes? While it’s certainly true that joint representation is more cost effective in the short term, it can also create issues between the couple, especially if underlying trouble already exists. Joint representation can spell disaster if the couple has problems communicating generally.
The Forbes article mentions the following things to consider when deciding whether you should go it alone or work together when crafting an estate plan:
1. Only one party has children
It’s no surprise that the vast majority of people want to leave their estates to their children. The problem that can occurs is if the other spouse has no children of their own then the parent may fear dying first and leaving their kids empty handed.
2. Disparities in income
A large income gap between spouses can affect joint planning and may be a good reason for each of you to go your own way.
3. One of you typically runs the show
If one party dominates the other in every day interactions, it can spell trouble when the estate planning process begins. A communication breakdown can leave one spouse upset with the final deal, believing his or her opinions were never fully considered. A skilled estate planner should recognize this imbalance and suggest that the parties consider finding separate representation.
4. Length of the marriage
This one’s pretty obvious: the shorter the relationship, the greater reason to get separate attorneys.
5. The number of prior marriages
The author of the Forbes article believes that a solid rule of thumb says that the greater the number of prior relationships a person has, the greater the need for separate representation when it comes time to make plans for the future.
6. Large age gap
The bigger the age difference between you and your spouse, the bigger the reason to contemplate solo representation. The suggestion that you seek separate representation is not meant as a critique of your relationship’s health; it’s meant only to acknowledge the fact that you both are in very different places in your lives and, as such, face unique concerns that can be best addressed with your own estate planning professional.
Though the decision to secure your own representation for estate planning may appear to be a simple financial one, the reality is that the choice touches on a variety of deeply personal issues in your relationship. Don’t let the complicated emotions get in the way of your speaking up and doing what you need to do to protect your family’s future.