When estate planning meets family law

When Texas couples take their marriage vows, they promise to love and honor each other until death. When we get married, we are focused largely on the here and now and the exiting future for the family, but at some point it is also important to start thinking about what will happen if or when one spouse passes away before the other. This is a very sad thing to think about and plan for, but since it will be a reality for many people, it must be considered.

In addition to having the important conversations with a spouse about who will inherit what and how it should be passed down to friends or family members, spouses should also think about their individual estate plans. A lot of couples choose to execute the same or corresponding wills with the same attorney. This approach can have advantages and disadvantages, so it’s helpful to consider seeking individual counsel during the estate planning process as well.

There are both practical and ethical considerations to doing coordinated but separate estate plans with a spouse. For example, one spouse may have valuables or other assets that their partner does not know about that they would like to leave to a friend or relative instead of including in the entire joint estate. Or, a couple could choose to write their wills together using the attorney they work with on other issues, but that could give rise to a conflict of interest in the event of a disagreement between the spouses. In these sorts of situations, having an independent and unbaised advocate for each spouse can be helpful.

Source:Forbes, “Ethics in Estate Planning for a Married Couple,” Stephen J. Dunn, April 26, 2013.