You and your spouse may be committed to one another, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have your own documentation.
We share some of the items that each spouse should have.
- A Will
- A Trust
- A Power of Attorney
- A Healthcare Proxy
A will lets others know how you wish for your assets to be distributed after your death. Parents of minor children may also use their individual wills to name their chosen guardians for the children if an accident were to occur.
It’s not required for each spouse to have their own will. Some couples will draft joint wills or mutual wills, which can be used when both parties share the same wishes. However, there can be some downsides to using these documents, so you will want to discuss this with your estate planning attorney to decide what is best for you and your spouse.
One reason it is important to have your own will is so that you can determine how you would like your personal assets to be distributed. If you pass without a will, the state’s intestacy laws will determine who inherits your assets. Usually, it would then pass to your spouse if they outlive you, but it makes it difficult for your heirs when it is done this way. They may have to go through the probate court process before they can access their inheritances. If your assets do not go to your spouse, they may be passed down to relatives you’re not close with instead of loved ones who aren’t legally your descendants such as stepchildren or godchildren. Creating a will eliminates any uncertainty about how you want your assets to be distributed.
Some married couples have both joint trusts and individual trusts. Depending on what you need, your estate planning attorney may advise you accordingly. Trusts may be used to provide for blood relatives, disabled adult children, charitable giving, or even for the grandchildren’s educational needs and other reasons.
Power of Attorney
A power of attorney (POA) allows you to name the person or people you would like to make certain legal and financial decisions on your behalf if you’re unable.
Your spouse may already have some legal authority to make decisions on your behalf if you have joint accounts such as a bank account. However, if you ever do become unable to make legal or financial decisions, it is not guaranteed that your spouse will be available to make those decisions for you. They could be out of the country on a business trip and unable to get back in time. This is why having a POA is important even if you and your spouse are on good terms.
Health Care Proxy
If you haven’t already done so, it is beneficial to get a Health Care Proxy. This gives you the ability to appoint an individual to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event you are unable to. If you are unconscious and need emergency surgery, having a Health Care Proxy would allow your spouse to grant the necessary permission to proceed. It not only gives authority to whoever you choose, but it decreases the likelihood of disagreements among other family members who may feel that they are better suited to make medical decisions on your behalf. Although you can only have one named agent serving at a time, a Health Care Proxy gives you permission to name as many successor agents as you would like.
Related Article: The Difference Between a Power of Attorney & Healthcare Proxy
Have more questions regarding joint or separate documentation?
Marcia L. Campbell, CPA is committed to helping each client plan for the personal and financial decisions that need to be made for the future. Marcia’s team has a genuine interest in your well-being and a well-established list of services to help guide you through this process.
If you need help, please contact us by filling out our Contact Form or by giving our office a call at +1(951)686-3608.