Estate planning attorneys see it every day—one spouse is more motivated than the other to put an estate plan in place. In the words of Dave Ramsey, one spouse is a "spender" and the other is a "saver"; one spouse is a "nerd" and the other is a "free spirit." Likewise, in the estate planning arena, more often than not one spouse is a planner by nature and the other is not.
If this situation sounds familiar to you, you are not alone. So how does one go about getting their spouse or partner on board when they are seemingly disinterested in planning your estate?
Just take a few simple steps.
First, explain that you want their involvement in making these important decisions and that their involvement matters. Tell your spouse why it is important to plan ahead, with reasons such as:
1. You both could be missing opportunities to increase your assets and have a healthier retirement, especially with the current record high estate and gift tax exemptions from 2012 that have been extended indefinitely.
2. If you have minor children, you should protect them by naming short-term guardians in case of an emergency (otherwise foster care is the default) and by choosing long-term guardians—but not in your will!
3. If you want to be sure your children or grandchildren to have something after you are gone and that they don't waste it away on bad habits or impulsive spending, this must be planned in advance.
4. If you are concerned about long-term health care costs, estate planning can help you plan for these, and you can minimize the costs as much as possible.
If you are the planner in the family, you will probably have to initiate the conversation. You also will probably be the one who does the heavy lifting by gathering all the information about your finances, including all assets and debts; although for the planner in the family, this is likely at your fingertips.
Then have a talk with your spouse about the major questions in estate planning:
1. Who should receive the assets? Who should be named the beneficiaries of retirement and bank accounts, who gets the furniture or cars, and who gets your jewelry?
2. Who should be named as short-term and long-term guardians of your minor children?
3. Who should be in charge of handling your estate and making sure all T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted?
4. Who should you choose to make medical and financial decisions for each of you in case you become incapacitated or disabled?
Often, gathering the necessary information and having serious conversations with your spouse is enough to motivate them to move forward with this important preparation. If nothing else persuades your spouse, emphasize that without planning ahead of time, neither of you can have any idea about what the future has in store for your children and loved ones. An estate plan gives you more certainty about their future and can help you sleep better at night.
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