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Caring For Generations

Couples, Finances, and Estate Planning

by | Sep 13, 2023 | estate and tax planning, Estate Planning, estate planning documents

“For advisors who work with married clients, it can be hard to keep up with the ever-shifting power dynamics,” a recent article in Financial Advisor Magazine observed. Couples navigate a broad array of decisions, including investments, retirement planning, daily budgeting, debt management, bill payment, tax preparation, and saving for vacations and higher education expenses, the article brings out.

There are three common approaches when it comes to budgeting as a couple, Kathryn Vasel of CNN Business writes:

  1. Merging everything together and sharing all income and expenses
  2. Creating a joint account that both people contribute to for shared expenses while also maintaining separate accounts
  3. Keeping everything separate, splitting the bills.

Co-managing finances while respecting the goals, needs, and expectations each spouse has regarding the extended family can be especially tricky, James McWhinney points out in Investopedia. One spouse’s parent or sibling might need financial help, and the other spouse wants to know why that money wasn’t used to address needs at home. Family money dynamics work the other way too, when one set of parents provides extravagant gifts or vacation trips the other parents cannot afford. When couples work together, their relationship may not be able to handle the stress of running a small business, and it can be difficult to divide work and personal life.

While these articles appear to refer primarily to money management by “traditional” married couples (opposite gender parents in a first marriage), the issues can be even more complex when it comes to estate planning in non-traditional situations, as we well know at Geyer Law. A sympathetic and compassionate approach is certainly needed as we help couples deal with different legal considerations. No couple is the same, as our estate planning attorneys have often observed, in particular when it comes to the many same-sex couples we advise. There are still many issues commonly faced by same-sex couples, especially when children are involved. Older LGBTQ+ adults may be estranged from biological family members who don’t accept their sexual orientation or gender identity, and disgruntled family members often contest the will.

In any couple, mates might well disagree on the best guardians to name for children, or on the way children are to inherit assets. Just a few of the many questions on which couples must reach agreement include:

  • Should assets be split equally among the heirs regardless of need?
  • Should stipulations be put on heirs’ receipt of property?
  • If more financial help was given to one child (to help that child finish medical school, start a business, have expensive medical or dental treatment), should that child inherit less?
  • Should an adult child who has taken on primary responsibility for caring for a parent be given a larger share of the inheritance?

Couples, finances, and estate planning – that’s a combination that demands legal expertise and a whole lot of patience and understanding.

– by Cara Chittenden, Attorney at Rebecca w. Geyer & Associates