Couples in New York and around the country sometimes believe that marriage negates the need for estate planning tools such as powers of attorney and wills. While married couples enjoy several legal rights and protections, there are still a number of good reasons for them to put an effective estate plan into place.
Many spouses assume that their husbands or wives will automatically inherit all of their assets if they pass away, but this may not be the case if the couple have children or the spouse who dies has children from a previous relationship. If there are any children under the age of 18 and there is no estate plan in place, a guardian will be appointed by the court. A properly drafted last will and testament or a trust could avoid this outcome. Issues can also arise over the distribution of assets when both spouses die without leaving a will. In these situations, the estate's assets will be distributed according to intestacy laws, and possibly estranged distant relatives could stand to inherit.
Married couples may also be wise to put medical or financial powers of attorney into place. Spouses may wish to designate a trusted individual other than their husband or wife to make important medical decisions on their behalf should they become incapacitated, and even spouses may not be automatically granted access to financial accounts in these situations. Not having the appropriate estate planning documents in place can leave spouses without financial support and allow bills to become delinquent.
Experienced estate planning attorneys may explain to married couples how drafting wills, trusts and powers of attorney can provide peace of mind and ensure that their assets are distributed according to their wishes. Attorneys could also describe the added control and privacy that trusts can provide and the particular value of these estate planning tools when minor children are involved.