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Should couples do estate planning together or separately? P.1

When it comes to financial matters, married couples share a lot with each other. In estate planning, too, couples sometimes structure things on a common plan and work together to secure their own future and that of their family. But couples certainly aren't obliged to do so, and many don't.

The question that every couple engaging in estate planning will need to answer for themselves is whether they will be represented by the same attorney. Joint representation is often more cost-effective, and can improve marital communications and other family members. But there are certain risks that go with it as well. In what situations would joint representation maybe not be the best idea?

In cases where only one spouse has children, it may be worth thinking about securing separate representation. If the parent of the children dies first, there is the risk that the step parent may honor their deceased partner's wishes.

In some cases, one spouse is wealthier than another or has a greater income than another. In such situations, the poorer spouse may be adversely affected by joint representation. Also, when one spouse is economically dependent on the other, it may decrease that spouse's bargaining power in estate planning.

Having separate attorneys may be a good idea when one spouse tends to be domineering and the other unable to make their own decisions freely. Another factor in determining whether to be jointly represented by the same attorney is the length of the relationship. The shorter the relationship is, the better the reason to get separate attorneys. If there is a big age difference or a great number of past relationships, these are further reasons to consider seeking out a separate attorney.

Spouse's who have secrets from the past they don't wish the spouse to find out, such as a secret lover or a child, may wish to seek out separate representation.

In our next post, we'll continue with the topic of joint representation in estate planning.

Source: Forbes, "Estate Planning For Couples: Should It Be A Solo Or A Duet?," L. Paul Hood, Jr., April 10, 2012.

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