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Wills, Living Wills, and Power of Attorney

3 Legal Documents Newlyweds Must Have

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Writing a will or living will or assigning power of attorney is not on the minds of most newlyweds, who are still dwelling on the romance of their commitment to one another. But when you get married, you are merging two lives – and that requires some planning (and some paperwork).

Unfortunately, to be responsible and protect yourselves, you must consider the unexpected, including what will happen if one of you suddenly passes away or ends up unable to make medical decisions for him or herself. It might seem morbid and completely unromantic, but it could help you and your husband or wife sleep more soundly and feel prepared for whatever happens. That can only help your marriage.

Recently, Julie Ann Garber, the guide to Wills and Estate Planning, who has written about basic estate planning, and shared her advice about the documents you should consider creating and signing now that you’re married. Here is a list of the documents that will help you weather – at least financially or legally – the worst kinds of tragedies

1. Wills

Some couples think that a will is really only necessary once you have kids. But Garber says that’s a mistake. If both spouses die, she adds, you need to spell out what you’d like to happen to all the property assets you have between you. Who will get your stuff? A will is a way to tell people exactly what you would like to see happen in your absence. Without one, the state ends up making decisions for you.

Pre- and post-nuptial agreements sometimes address what happens in the case of death, but those documents usually specify what happens to property or assets if one of the spouses die, not both, says Garber. In other words, if you want your parents to get your stuff if you and your husband pass away at the same time, then you need a will to speak for you.

A will is an absolute must if you or your husband or wife have children already. In the will, you will express who you’d like to make a guardian of your kids under 18 years old. You will also set up a trust fund if you’d like your property and assets to go to your underage children. If you don’t set up a trust, says Garber, a court-appointed guardian will manage your money for your kids.

Those who are newlyweds for a second or third time also have more at stake. Often, they have children from their previous marriages, who are biologically unrelated to their new husband or wife and that means that it’s more important to uncomplicate things by specifically stating in a will what you’d like to see happen if you pass away. Of course, you must have conversations about this with your ex, if he or she is still in the picture, and your current husband or wife. It’s tough to talk about these things, but it’s a must. Or else other people will be making the decisions for you and your kids after you’re gone.

Although Garber advises that newlyweds find a lawyer who specializes in family law and specifically wills and estate planning, she says simple “I love you” wills, in which you say your money and property will go to your spouse unless you both pass away, should only cost you a couple hundred dollars to have completed. This is an affordable price, especially because it will save you or your family from headaches later, says Garber.

2. Living Wills Anybody who followed the Terri Schiavo case knows a little something about living wills, which lets people know how to handle your medical care and treatment if you can’t speak for yourself. It helps your family from arguing about what you want to happen if the hospitals have to use machines to prolong your life.

In the Schiavo case, the brain-damaged patient’s husband wanted to remove her feeding tube, but her parents brought him back and forth to court to keep the tube in and keep her alive despite the diagnosis that she was in a persistent vegetative state. The husband contended that Schiavo expressed that she would not want to continue living in such a situation, while her parents insisted that their daughter wanted to live and never made such comments. The husband and her parents argued about this – presumably in private and definitely in the courts – for years.

As a result of the Schiavo case, many more people have become aware of the importance of living wills and talking out loud about what you would want if you were on some sort of life support. “You never know,” says Garber, “what’s going to happen to you.” Even in death, you have to try and keep the peace between your husband or wife and your immediate family, and a living will makes the process simpler.

3. Power of Attorney

Power of attorney is a document that allows you to appoint a person or organization to handle your affairs when you are unavailable or unable to do so, according to the Lectric Law Library. Garber says this is a good document to have, especially in this day and age when people tend to travel on business often. She mentioned a client, whose husband was working in New Zealand, when she had to sign off on paperwork for a home they were buying. Because she had power of attorney, she was able to take care of everything while her husband was away, says Garber.

If you have children from a previous relationship and they are adults, you could consider providing power of attorney to both your children and your spouse. There are different types of power of attorney, says Garber, and you would need to consult a lawyer, who specializes in family law for this, as you would for any of the documents mentioned in this article. Garber suggests talking to friends and relatives to get recommendations for lawyers who can help you. She adds that you might also consult online resources, she adds, such as referrals from your state’s Bar Association.

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