About a month ago, I had the pleasure of attending a wedding of two dear friends. A month or so before the wedding, I shared some advice with the groom (I’ve shared the same advice with other friends over the years). Every bride and groom encounter various financial, tax, and legal questions in the busy and chaotic wedding planning time and after the honeymoon’s over and the new couple adjusts to life together. Good planning is crucial. Nobel Laureate T.S. Eliot memorably wrote, “What we call the beginning is often the end/And to make an end is to make a beginning./The end is where we start from.” (The Four Quartets, Little Gidding, V). True with estate planning as with many endeavors in life. So what’s the end game? Start from there to figure out how to get there.
- Don’t buy your fiancé expensive gifts in his or her name. Whether a car, house/condo, jewelry, vacations, clothes, furniture, artwork, antiques, or other big ticket items, wait until you’re married. Federal law allows you to give your fiancé a gift of up to $14,000 tax free per year, but if the item costs $14,001, you’ll owe gift tax and have to file a gift tax return (not fun or romantic). The IRS says a gift is anything you receive without paying fair market value. (Kansas and Missouri don’t have state gift taxes.) Instead buy the item in your name and give it to your spouse once you’re married, as husbands and wives can give each other unlimited gifts without tax consequences.
- Don’t add your fiancé to real estate deeds until you’re married. Again, any gift (like a house or farm) over $14,000 will cost you gift tax and require filing a return with the IRS.
- Don’t pay off your fiancé’s credit cards, car or student loans before you’re married. Gifts are romantic, but gift taxes aren’t. Wait until you’re married.
After the wedding:
- Execute living wills, and durable medical and financial powers of attorney. These are inexpensive, but vital documents that can last for decades. Your spouse can’t talk with your doctor, authorize surgery, or make financial decisions for you without these documents in place. My firm’s financial powers of attorney include cutting edge digital estate planning and elder law provisions, standard. My firm’s living wills and medical powers of attorney include HIPAA, HITECH, and Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) privacy releases and can easily be custom tailored at no extra charge to reflect your beliefs and convictions about end of life treatment issues. (Having these done as a single person is wise, especially if you have health issues, travel frequently, or have various assets (family business stock or a small business, home mortgage, intellectual property, etc) – you can change your attorney in fact (or agent) quickly and inexpensively once you’re married.
- Execute a will and/or trust. Simple, no-frills wills for a couple are economical. Wills that include a trust (testamentary trusts), or pourover wills that leave everything to a standalone trust are also affordable. Kansas law automatically invalidates an existing will when you get married and have a child. Missouri law is different. A will or trust allows you to leave specific instructions for how you want your financial affairs handled, how much your spouse and children receive, who cares for your child, and so on. Kansas and Missouri both allow a separate personal property list (highly recommended) to leave specific items to different family members or friends. Whether you’ve got $5,000 in student loans or $5 million in your stock portfolio, you need a will or trust. If you die intestate (without a will), your family will pay more for probate administration and endure a longer, more complex court process than if you have a will. And who wants the government to dictate how their things are distributed and who gets what? My firm has worked on dozens of probate estates in Kansas and Missouri, but it’s easier on everyone to plan ahead. Avoid LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer, and other do-it-yourself books or websites – I’ve seen (and fixed) online/DIY documents for clients that any practicing attorney would’ve been embarrassed to have drafted. Like many other services, you get what you pay for – good planning requires expertise. My firm has the training and expertise to guide you through the process, leavened with friendly counsel.
A few other ideas for newlyweds:
- Joint or separate bank accounts
- Change IRA/retirement plan beneficiary to spouse
- Change life insurance beneficiary to spouse
- Car titles – joint or separate
- Real estate – joint or separate – joint tenancy in Kansas or Missouri; tenancy by the entirety in Missouri
- If you’re moving to another state once you’re married, you have about 30 days to change your driver’s license, legal name, etc
My firm has experience working with young professionals, young families, and newlyweds to make the estate planning simple, easy, and inexpensive. My firm also has experience working with high net worth individuals and families with tens of millions in assets, closely held businesses, real estate, and other issues. We provide reliable, easy to understand documents so you can rest easy and enjoy your life. Give me a call (913-707-9220) or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) to schedule a convenient, free consultation.
IRS CIRCULAR 230 Disclosure: Unless expressly stated otherwise, any U.S. federal tax advice contained in this blog post or links is not intended or written by Johnson Law KC LLC to be used to avoid IRS or other tax penalties, and any tax advice cannot be used to avoid penalties that may be imposed by the IRS.
(c) 2013, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.