A friend of ours recently contacted us with a question that comes up frequently enough that we wanted to share it with you:
We are married and everything that we own is held jointly/as community property. We own a house, but we don’t have any kids and we don’t have debt. Do we need a will? Do we need a trust? Why?”
To the second question: Yes. Because….
Incapacity. Incapacity doesn’t just mean “coma,” (although that counts too). It could be that you went into surgery and had a bad reaction to the anesthesia so you can’t quite function as you ordinarily would. Or, it could be dementia. It could be temporary, it could be permanent. But a will doesn’t let you address incapacity situations. A trust allows you to plan for incapacity. It allows you to plan for who will take care of your assets and use your assets for your benefit when you are still living. Just because your spouse is on title doesn’t mean your spouse has all the necessary authority to care for you in the event of your incapacity. (Click here to read our previous post explaining incapacity.)
Contingency planning. Wills do not address all contingencies. But trusts allow for lapses and contingency planning. What if your spouse becomes incapacitated after you do? What if your intended beneficiary is still a minor (younger than 18 years old)? What if your intended beneficiary has a substance abuse or gambling issue later on? What if your intended beneficiary has special needs and requires means-tested government assistance? What if your beneficiary predeceases you? These issues can be planned for in a trust in advance.
Probate. You’ve probably heard the term “probate” with some negative connotation. (Click here to read our previous post explaining probate.) If you have a trust, you avoid probate. Probate takes about 18-24 months; it’s a public proceeding; and it’s expensive.
So even if you are married and hold everything jointly, that may only ensure that your spouse receives your assets upon your death. But so many other scenarios can occur. We might recommend you consider a trust given your situation and desires. All of our recommendations depend on your specific family and estate planning goals. To ascertain what is best for you we would need to meet with you, in a free consultation, to understand your goals, assess and explain your options, and provide you with a recommendation tailored to your situation. Call or email us today.