So, you just happen to be looking through the freezer and see that big hunk of foil in the back corner. Curious, you give it a couple of pokes and then decide to pull it out and take a look. Unwrapping the hunk of foil, you realize its your old wedding cake, you know the part you were supposed to share with your wife on your one year anniversary. Well, just like that forgotten piece of cake, there may be some other things that have been neglected in your life. For newly married couples, there are several tasks that should be taken care of within the first year (or two for the stragglers). Some things are obvious, such as taking care of name changes (if you opted in on that) to updating health insurance records and beneficiary designations on your life insurance and retirement accounts. Here are some practical tips for handling matters after the honeymoon.
1. Health Insurance
Talk to your health insurance representative, whether that is through Human Resources at your company or directly through the insurance company. Major life changes such as marriage allow you to update your coverage. It may make sense for you to drop your current coverage and go on a plan with your spouse or add your spouse to your coverage. There is no perfect answer on how to set this up, but there is often a limited amount of time to make these kinds of decisions before you get stuck waiting for the next open enrollment period.
2. Beneficiary Designations
Update your beneficiary designations on life insurance and retirement accounts. I know you still love your Mama, but now that you have cleaved to your wife or husband, it’s time to take Mama off the beneficiary designations. Unfortunately, we run across situations all the time where a death occurs and the spouse is left not receiving life insurance proceeds, because the beneficiary designation was never updated. These things do not happen automatically.
3. Bank Accounts
Take a trip to the bank or credit union together and retitle those bank accounts as “Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship.” If a person becomes incapacitated due to an accident or passes away, their bank accounts get frozen unless there is a joint owner or someone else with authority to sign on those accounts. If you are not willing to make your new love bug a joint owner on the account, you should at least consider naming them as an authorized signer and/or payable on death beneficiary. What we are trying to avoid here is a situation where there are bills to be paid and no one with access to the money to pay them. Again, newsflash, this doesn’t happen automatically. Being married doesn’t give you any authority over your spouse’s accounts. That power went away along with the leisure suits of the seventies. Your spouse’s money belongs to him or her and your money belongs to you as far as the banks are concerned. While it is true that there is a community interest in property in Texas, banks don’t really care about that. They only care about what is on the signature card.
4. Estate Plan
Get an Estate Plan! You knew it was coming. As an Estate Planning Attorney, I have to stress the importance of good planning. An Estate Plan will include documents like the Durable Power of Attorney which will allow your spouse to be named on a document that gives them the authority to handle financial transactions if you cannot do so yourself. This keeps the courts out of your life. Without a power of attorney, your spouse will not be able to care for your financial health without seeking the approval of the courts. You need to do whatever you can to avoid getting the court involved in your life. Trust me, it’s not fun and it’s not cheap. Another important document in an Estate Plan is the medical power of attorney. You want to make it clear who you want making your medical decisions if you wake up and are unable to do so yourself. One of the most important documents in your estate plan is the Last Will and Testament. This document will ensure that your spouse gets the property you intend for them to have if you pass away unexpectedly. In some cases, such as blended families, you may not want your spouse to get everything; a will can ensure that they get exactly what you want them to get and not a penny more or less.
Plan another vacation. Time flies and part of the legacy you leave has to do with the abundance or lack thereof of time that you spend with your spouse and family. Make sure you are leaving the legacy that you intend.