If You Have a Spouse

If you have a spouse, you will probably want to provide for him or her in the event of your death.  Following are a few of the issues you should discuss with your estate planning attorney in this regard:

  • Do you have sufficient assets and/or life insurance to support the standard of living that you want for your survivor?
  • Do you want to give your survivor an outright distribution of assets at your death?  An outright distribution can be appealing because it is very easy for the survivor to administer – the assets simply become the survivor’s own property.  On the other hand, at your survivor’s subsequent death, these assets could end up being distributed to people or organizations that you would not approve of; this is a particular concern if your survivor ever remarries.
  • If you want to leave assets to your survivor in trust, rather than outright, how much control do you want to give the survivor over the trust?  Trusts are very flexible, and can be designed in many different ways.  A survivor could be granted near-total control over a trust, or very little control, or a moderate amount of control.  A good estate planner can discuss the pros and cons of the various choices with you.
  • If you are married, do you want to make your surviving spouse the outright beneficiary of your retirement accounts, even if your non-retirement assets are going to go into a trust?  Depending on your overall situation, doing so might make sense, as it can offer significant income tax advantages.