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Estate planning decisions for couples

Structuring your estate plan can be a big headache. But while some couples reach for the Tylenol bottle, others draw up divorce papers. So how can you ensure you and your spouse or domestic partner remain close throughout the process?

Consider the type of representation that is best suited to your needs as a couple. Both joint representation and separate counsel can have distinct advantages and drawbacks depending upon the circumstances of your relationship.  

Joint representation can be less expensive and efficient. You need only rely upon one set of estate planners and can work together to complete tasks and make decisions. It also has the potential to enforce bonds as you and your spouse build trust and engage in open communication.

On the other hand, employing separate lawyers can make it easier to voice personal issues and desires. You can be confident that your best interests are always represented - especially important where blended families are concerned. 

But knowing what works for you isn't always easy. Both representation options can be disastrous if there is a lack of communication. Matters can quickly become volatile and issues complicated when factoring in half-siblings or non-blood relatives. Generally however, it is a good idea to consider separate lawyers when:

  • There is a prenup
  • One or both of you have had a number of past relationships
  • There is a wide gap between your ages
  • One of you always dominates the conversation
  • You are financially dependent upon your spouse or vice versa
  • Only one of you has kids
  • There is a large disparity between your earnings or wealth

Source: Forbes, "Estate Planning For Couples: Should It Be A Solo Or A Duet?" Deborah Jacobs, April 10, 2012

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