I Do, Again: Estate Planning in a Second Marriage

Oscar Wilde famously said, “Marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence. Second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.” If this is true, Americans must be an imaginative and hopeful bunch because the marriage rate remains steady, and Census data has revealed that 40% of all marriages involve at least one partner that is getting remarried after having had a previous partner.

We send our best wishes to all of the happy couples tying the knot this year, along with a reminder that visiting with an estate planning attorney should be near the top of every newlywed’s to-do list. This is particularly true if either of the partners was previously married, or has children from a prior relationship.

If you don’t have an estate plan, there are laws that dictate what will happen to your debts and assets after you die. Basically, whatever is left over after your debts are paid off will be distributed to your spouse, your kids, or your parents. However, if you have an ex-spouse, they may be able to convince the court that they deserve a portion of your estate as well. Most people, even if they are on good terms with their ex, do not like the thought of this. The only way to make sure that the people you actually want to inherit your estate do so is to put an estate plan into place.

As part of the estate planning process, it is also important to update all medical documents. The Kardashians actually provide a good example of why this is important. When Lamar Odom, the now ex, then estranged, husband of Khloe Kardashian was found near death at a Nevada brothel, Khloe was the one calling all the shots and making difficult medical decisions on Lamar’s behalf despite the fact that the couple had filed for divorce. As this example makes clear, filing for divorce does not take away a spouse’s ability to make important medical decisions.

Even after a divorce is final, an ex-spouse may be tasked with making medical decisions if a power of attorney or healthcare directive that names the ex-spouse as the key decision maker was not revoked. It is critical to go over such documents at the time of divorce, and when a marriage occurs to make sure the right person for the job has the power they need should the worst part of “for better or for worse” happen.

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