Newlyweds should review our marriage estate planning checklist to ensure their estate’s futures are smooth and optimized. There are many areas to consider from inheritance and medical care to asset protection and guardianship.
We know it can be overwhelming and complicated, so we welcome you to consult our Pinellas County estate planning lawyers for a free consultation if you need any assistance.
Checklist for Married Couples’ Estate Planning
1. Update Your Beneficiaries
A beneficiary is a person selected to receive the benefits of an account or entity upon your death. You should update the accounts listed below to list your spouse as the new beneficiary or transfer on death designation (if desired).
This is a critical step if you have existing beneficiary designations that you’d like to change. For example, if you had a sister listed as a beneficiary for a savings account, you may want to change that to your spouse.
- Existing Checking Accounts
- Savings Accounts
- Investments: Stocks, bonds and mutual funds.
- Life Insurance: Employer-based and stand-alone policies
- Military Benefits
- Pension: SEP / SARSEP
- Property and titles or any other assets that list someone else as a beneficiary
- Retirement Accounts: 401(k), IRA, Roth IRA, 403(b)
2. Account Changes
Once you’ve tied the knot, you should also evaluate whether you want to create the following accounts, or add your new spouse to the existing plans:
- Open a Joint Banking Account
- Open a Joint Credit Card
- Health Insurance (marriage often allows for a special enrollment period)
- Car insurance (look for family plans)
- Mobile phone plans
- Re-title asset ownership documents, such as:
- Any other titled asset
- Duplicate Accounts, subscriptions and services
3. Update Your Will
One of the most important estate planning steps after marriage is updating your will. In Florida, the intestate succession laws prioritize your spouse to inherit the estate after your death.
That means that unless you state otherwise, your spouse will receive everything in your estate (such as real estate, cash, personal items and vehicles), if you passed away first.
If you’d like siblings, close friends, children or anyone else to receive a share of your estate, you must state it in your will.
- “75% of my estate should go to my wife. The remaining 25% should go to my siblings” or;
- “My musical instruments should go to my nephew”;
- “My jewelry should be shared amongst my sisters equally”
4. Listing Guardians
A will is also an important place to appoint a guardian for any children you have or plan to have. Without this, your children would live with an individual selected by a court and potentially not someone you’d personally select.
This is also true for pets. However, we advise that you consider a pet trust.
5. Power of Attorney
A Power of Attorney (POA) is a document that authorizes an individual to act on your behalf for finances and legal matters.
For example, if you’re out of the country, sick or in any other way unable to take care of taxes, bills, finances, property and investments then you can ask your POA to do it.
As part of your marriage estate planning, you should consider appointing your spouse as a power of attorney so they can step in during times of need.
There are different types of power of attorney, with different limits on their extent of power. We advise that you consult an estate planning attorney when creating your will, to ensure you make the optimal choice and sign the document properly.
6. Medical Directives
We know that you don’t want to think about health or sickness after a marriage. But putting these plans in place now can protect your future, and then you can forget about it! It’s “in-sickness and in health” after all.
We advise that you create:
- Advance Directives (You preferences for health care, treatment, medication and end-of-life care)
- Health Care Proxy (The authorization of an individual to make health-related decisions on your behalf, if you’re unable to anymore. For example, if you’re in a coma or extremely sick and there are decisions to be made of medication or treatments).
By having advance directives in place, you can remove the stress and burden placed on your spouse if you’re ever incapacitated.
These documents are part of your will and should be filled out and signed with the support of an estate planning lawyer.
You should then store it in an easily accessible place. And congrats, you’ve now removed a huge burden from your family’s shoulders.
7. Update ID and Documents
Now is a good time to get all that documentation updated and sorted out. You’ll need it to buy real estate, get insurance and a whole bunch of other bureaucratic things during your marriage.
We advise you to provide a safe place for the following so that your spouse can easily access them:
- Armed Forces ID / Discharge Papers
- Birth Certificate
- Citizenship Documentation
- Divorce Decree (from previous marriages)
- Legal guardian or adoption papers
- Marriage Certificate
- Prenuptial or Postnuptial Agreement
- Social Security Card, or social security number
We also advise that you do relatively simple digital estate planning. In the digital era, we often find spouses locked out of their partner’s accounts during times of need or unable to gain inheritance for crypto. There’s also your digital legacy to consider.
You should consider the estate planning impact of:
- Cryptocurrency digital wallets
- Domain names
- E-commerce accounts (such as eBay)
- Email accounts
- Gaming accounts
- Intellectual property
- Loyalty programs
- Online accounts for utilities
- Online banking accounts
- Online dating accounts
- Online subscription accounts
- Personal information and data, such as spreadsheets or digital creative projects
- Photos and files saved in cloud storage
- Social media accounts
You can read our full guide on digital estate planning in Florida here, including Florida’s laws on digital inheritance.
9. Consider Options Asset Protection
There are many benefits to estate planning for married couples, but an often overlooked one is asset protection.
Asset protection is the legal process of structuring your asset ownership so they’re very difficult for creditors to claim on.
You can potentially prevent creditors from accessing your assets if you’re ever in debt or litigation, thanks to these methods.
Common structures used for asset protection include:
- Individual Name
- Multiple Parties Names: Marriage, Domestic Partnerships, General Partnerships, Joint Ventures
- Entities, including corporations, LLCs and Limited Partnerships
You can read our full guide on asset protection in Florida here.
10. Take Critical Steps if You Have Stepchildren
Blended families, where a spouse has a stepchild from a previous relationship, must take estate planning action to avoid inheritance issues.
Florida’s ‘elective share‘ law guarantees surviving spouses at least 30% interest in their decedent spouse’s estate – even if the will said otherwise.
If the decedent spouse had no will, the surviving spouse can receive 100% of the estate if there are no children or only children from that relationship. If either spouse has children from another relationship, the elective share is 50%.
You may need to:
- Update your will
- Update trust or designation documents
- Ensure estate planning documents list stepchildren as ‘stepchildren’ and not ‘children’
- Update your insurance policies
If you are a blended family, please feel free to consult our Pinellas County estate planning lawyers so we can help you through the process.
Hire an Estate Planning Attorney for Marriages in Pinellas County, FL
If you want to optimize your estate plan after your marriage in Pinellas County, then our Pinellas County estate planning attorneys can help. We regularly help Floridians update their estate plans to include their spouse, for long-term planning.
Battaglia, Ross, Dicus & McQuaid, P.A. is U.S. News and World Reports Tier 1 law firm in Florida, specializing in Estate Planning & Probate since 1958. With award-winning experienced estate planning attorneys, they can help you create a will or trust.