Q: I have been divorced for several years. Recently my girlfriend and I started discussing marriage. Is there anything I should plan for, since this would be a second marriage for both of us?
A: If you are a regular reader, you know that I think it's a good idea to review your estate plan during major life events. Not that it isn't a good idea to blow the dust off the plan every now and then, but life-changing events should automatically trigger a review. Remarrying would definitely be one of those life changing events.
The first thing to realize is that as soon as you marry, your spouse is granted certain inheritance rights under law. However, these rights of inheritance can be waived or modified by using an anti-nuptial agreement, or as its more commonly known, a pre-nuptial agreement.
Pre-nuptial agreements allow prospective spouses to, among other things, set out each other's rights of inheritance. By planning in advance, statutory rights aren't an issue.
It is also possible to sign an agreement setting out inheritance rights after the spouses are married by using a post-nuptial agreement. Personally, I'm not a big fan of post-nuptial agreements. A post-nuptial agreement is far more likely to be set aside then a pre-nuptial agreement. It's almost always better to waive the rights before marriage then it is after.
Another thing to consider is the dissolution decree that was entered in the divorce. Often times the dissolution decree includes requirements that spouses have to satisfy.
For example, a spouse may have to maintain life insurance on themselves with the ex-spouse as beneficiary. Requirements such as that can affect the future estate plan and you should have a full understanding of what is required of you under the decree.
Other than that, you should take the steps that everyone takes when reviewing their estate plan. Verify how the assets are titled and make sure you understand what that means to your estate plan.
I'm still surprised how many people I meet who can't tell me how their bank accounts are titled or who the beneficiaries are on their insurance or retirement accounts. These things need to be addressed in the estate plan.
I'm also surprised how many people don't understand what will happen to their jointly owned bank accounts after their death. Remember that if you have a beneficiary designation on your account, the beneficiary is probably going to own it regardless of what your will says.
Finally, think about how you want the new blended family to be treated. Remember that stepchildren are not treated the same as biological children. If you want your stepchildren to be included in your estate plan, you have to create that right.
Christopher W. Yugo is an attorney in Crown Point. Chris’ Estate Planning Article appears online every Sunday at www.nwi.com. Address questions to Chris in care of The Times, 601 W. 45th Ave., Munster, IN 46321 or to Chrisyugolaw@gmail.com. Chris’ information is meant to be general in nature. Specific legal, tax, or insurance questions should be referred to your attorney, accountant, or estate-planning specialist.