Marriage and Estate Planning: Welcome to the Family!

Congratulations on your marriage!  You got married and created a new family.  All the “to dos” for wedding planning are complete and all that is left are writing the “thank you” notes and settling into your new married life.

And, one more thing:  review, revise, or create an estate plan!

Your new family deserves the protections, authority, clarity, and peace of mind that a well-crafted estate plan brings.  What is your vision for your family?

Advance Medical Directive

Who will make your medical decisions if you cannot make them yourself?

Virginia law allows an attending physician to ask your spouse to make decisions for you if you are unable to make them, but does not require the attending physician to do so.  The agent you name in your advance medical directive has priority over everyone else in making medical decisions for you, and if that agent is unavailable, you get to choose who else you trust to make these decisions.

BEWARE: In the absence of an acting agent under an Advance Medical Directive, the Court may need to appoint a guardian to make your medical and personal decisions if you are unable to do so. This can be a lengthy process, and it is MUCH more costly than creating an advance medical directive.

Durable Power of Attorney

Who will manage your financial affairs if you cannot manage them yourself?

Marriage doesn’t mean that one spouse is automatically able to manage the financial affairs and make financial decisions for the other.  Sometimes that is a surprise and sometimes that is a relief!  Your agent under a Durable Power of Attorney can, in addition to you, make financial and property management decisions for you and can continue to act on your behalf whenever you are unable to manage your own financial affairs.

BEWARE: In the absence of an acting agent under a Durable Power of Attorney, the Court may need to appoint a conservator to manage your financial affairs if you are unable to do so. This too can be a lengthy process, and it too is MUCH more costly than creating a durable power of attorney.

Will or Trust

Who will inherit from you after your death?

A Will or a Trust designates who inherits the assets controlled by the Will or the Trust at your death.  A Trust also provides lifetime management of assets if you become unable to manage them yourself and provides a private way to protect your assets for your successors.

Assets that have a beneficiary listed or that have survivorship provisions are not controlled by the Will or Trust if the other party survives you. This reality is frequently the cause of considerable distress after the death of a loved one.

If you do not have a Will, then Virginia’s intestacy rules say who will inherit the assets that your Will would have controlled if you had one.  Intestacy rules are a “one-size-fits-all” best guess as to what most people are thought to want.  Intestacy rules fall short of expectations in many instances because, for example, they make no provisions for stepchildren who are deeply loved members of the decedent’s family.  If your new family includes stepchildren, you must take action to allow them to inherit from you because the law otherwise makes no provision for them.

You and your spouse are entitled to inherit from each other unless you have agreed not to through an agreement signed before your marriage (a “pre-nuptial agreement”) or afterwards (a “marital agreement”).  Certain requirements must be satisfied for these agreements to be valid; consult an attorney if you have questions about them.

Contact Us for Estate Planning Advice After Marriage

Congratulations again on your marriage and the new family you have created!  To learn more about estate planning click here to register for our free workshop, “7 Hazards to Your Estate Plan,” or call us at (757) 690-2470 to set an appointment with an estate planning attorney.



Join us for a workshop to learn more about how to address your legal needs.
We offer complimentary consultations for all areas of practice. Contact us today.