Whether it is your first time or not, marriage is an important step that can have both legal and financial ramifications. Some questions to consider: Do you want to enter into a pre-nuptial agreement? Are there assets you are bringing to the marriage that you would like to see kept separate or protected from creditors? If this is not a first marriage, have you discussed how finances will be handled if you and your new spouse have children from prior marriages? Are either of you subject to ongoing obligations from a prior marriage in the form of a property settlement agreement? Have you considered how your taxes will be handled? Have you discussed investment, savings, retirement or spending strategies? Have you discussed what each of you would want to have happen in the event of incapacity or death?
If you have children from a prior marriage and they are minors, what is the custody situation and do you need to make a contingency plan in the event of incapacity or death? Who would be the guardian or guardians for any minor child? Have you evaluated how much raising a child costs? What college savings plans have you considered? If your child has special needs, have you looked at available benefits and resources to assist with your child’s care and expenses? Do you have a financial plan? Have you considered life insurance? Will your children be involved if you are incapacitated? How do you want to leave assets for your children?
There are three key documents every child needs who is turning 18 and is capable of understanding a legal contract. These documents include a general durable power of attorney, HIPAA privacy release or Advance Medical Directive. Have you discussed these documents and/or who your children would name? Do you children have an estate that needs to be protected from creditors or distributed in the event of their untimely death?
With any surgery or treatment for a serious illness comes some risk of incapacity or death. Thus, have you prepared an Advance Medical Directive? Are you familiar with Five Wishes? Do you have a Living Will? Have you executed a HIPAA Privacy Release? Have you considered your wishes for medical treatment in the event of incapacity? Who knows your medical wishes? Have you evaluated the financial impact that an illness would have on your estate? Have you considered disability insurance? Have you considered the types of medical treatment you do or do not want at the end of life? Do you have a medical advocate who may or may not be your healthcare agent named in an Advance Medical Directive?
Do you know their funeral wishes? Are there monies specifically set aside for funeral expenses? Do you know who is in charge of the estate or trust? Are you in charge, and if so, do you have the documents (originals and/or copies)? There are a variety of estate and/or trust administration responsibilities that need to be handled including such tasks as simple as canceling subscriptions to the more complex areas of dealing with any tax consequences, and thus, do you have a checklist? Are there family dynamics to navigate throughout the administrative process that may have legal ramifications?
Have you looked at your financial plan to determine the feasibility of retirement? What options do you have for Social Security? What pension options are available to you? Have you looked at the cost of long term care and considered long term care insurance? Are there any life insurance policies where the term is expiring or in which cash surrender value has grown? Do you have estate planning documents in place? Do you want to provide for grandchildren or other ‘next generation’ family members?
Have you built charitable giving into your estate plan? Are you planning on only giving to charity during your lifetime? Have you looked at the requirements for lifetime charitable gifting? Do you want to make a planned gift to an organization?
Divorce has both a financial and legal impact on your life. There are a number of considerations to think about when divorce occurs including: (a) What obligations do you have under the property settlement agreement? (b) Have you updated beneficiary designations? (c) What should happen to your real and personal property? (d) Do you have a special needs child that requires extra consideration in the process? (e) What if your estate plan does not get updated and you become incapacitated or die?
When you live alone and are single, then it is especially important that you have estate planning documents in place. In addition, it is important that you have a network in place so you continue to be actively engaged in the community, your surroundings and in your well-being. Ensuring that you have fiduciaries named under a will or trust, in a general durable power of attorney and under an advance medical directive, living will and HIPAA privacy release helps to reduce the likelihood that Adult Protective Services and/or the court system will somehow become involved in your affairs. However, difficulties often arise in finding a fiduciary, but there are individuals, financial institutions and professionals who can assist you in finding the right fit.
As you age, do you want to stay in your home as long as possible? What does aging in place mean to you? Who is part of your network (e.g., friends, family, neighbors, church, professionals, etc.)? Who is checking in on you to ensure you are doing well? Have you considered having a care plan prepared or working with a geriatric care manager? Are there repairs or improvements to be done to the residence? Is there de-cluttering to do? Can you afford to age in place?
Everyone has a digital footprint. It is virtually impossible not to have such a footprint, but do others know how to gain access to your digital assets? If all your banking is online and you receive no paper statements, do your fiduciaries know what banks your use, what accounts you have or how you invest? What social media accounts do you have? What do you want to have happen with certain accounts? What media (e.g., movies, books, music, etc.) do you have stored online and do you own it or lease it? What about your photos or written memoirs? Are those stored on a hard drive, thumb drive, or in the cloud? Do you have a back-up? Where are your passwords and who knows them? Do you have a password manager? Do your fiduciaries have the necessary authority to act on your behalf in your estate planning documents?