Coates & Davenport, P.C.

How does a remarriage affect one's estate plan?

According to the Census Bureau, approximately 17 percent of people in the U.S. will marry a second time after their first marriage ends. While many in Virginia may feel lucky to have found love again following a death or divorce, the legal issues surrounding second marriages can be more complex than those regarding a person's first marriage. This is especially true when it comes to estate planning.

For example, a person who remarries later in life may want to ensure that certain assets are passed onto their adult children from their first marriage upon the person's death. However, without a proper estate plan, it is possible that certain assets will pass onto the person's surviving spouse, rather than to their adult children. If a person wishes to prevent this, they need a comprehensive estate plan.

For example, certain assets such as life insurance policies and retirement accounts have beneficiaries who will receive the proceeds of these accounts once the account holder passes away. If a person divorces, they will want to ensure their ex is not still listed as a beneficiary to these accounts. Instead, a person may want to change their beneficiary designations so that their adult children will receive the proceeds of these policies upon the person's death.

In addition, sometimes a person owns a home with their second spouse. Generally, if the home is deeded as "tenancy by the entirety" or "joint tenancy with right of survivorship" then, upon one spouse's death, the surviving spouse will own the entire piece of property, even if a will indicates the property should go to the deceased spouse's children. That being said, state laws vary on this issue, so those who want to make sure their children inherit their home will want to seek the legal advice necessary to make that happen.

In the end, it is important that people have a carefully-drafted will that accounts for all contingencies, including a second marriage. These wills may need to be updated if a person remarries. Other estate planning documents, such as powers of attorney and a living will may also need to be updated. Estate planning is never one-and-done. Just as a person's life evolves, so should their estate plan. This can ensure their wishes are met upon their death.

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