When Harry and Sally decided to tie the knot in marriage, they knew that their lives would head down a much different path from when they were single — new joys, family, friends and responsibilities.
There were some immediate and simple legal changes for both: a new joint checking account, changes to beneficiaries on work-provided life insurance policies and retirement plans, and a name change for Sally with the Social Security Administration and Michigan Secretary of State’s Office.
Prior to marriage, neither had or needed a will. Both age 25, they together owned modest assets. Joint ownership of marital assets provided a way for assets to flow to the surviving spouse if something terrible happened.
But all that changed with the arrival of baby Claire. At a party, a friend asked if they had selected a guardian for Claire in the remote chance they both died in a car accident. Relatives of the friend had just gone through that tragedy, and the legal wrangling was horrific.
Harry and Sally learned that without a will, the court decides who will be guardian if both parents die. Who would that be? Harry’s or Sally’s parents — all of whom thought they were out of the woods raising kids? Sally’s older sister, who knew how to raise kids, but was financially strapped with her own three children? Harry’s younger brother, who was not mature enough at 22?
Chances that both would be die are slim, they thought — but stranger things have happened. With so much at stake, Harry and Sally decided to delay getting a new couch and retained an estate planning attorney to spell out their wishes for Claire. Sally’s parents nodded in approval — they had a will drawn up when their first was born — and stepped up to the plate as guardian if the unthinkable happened.