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Don’t assume that marriage covers all estate planning bases

6/2/2016 | Kaplin Stewart Blog

There are many myths surrounding the topic of inheritance, many of which are based in nothing more than commonly held assumptions. One of the most prevalent of estate planning myths is that married spouses who wish to leave everything to each other do not need to create a will. It is important for Pennsylvania couples to understand that no matter what one’s marital status, if an individual dies without a will, the rules of the state will dictate how assets are divided.

Many couples feel that the wealth that they have accumulated is their own rightful property, and that when the time comes for one spouse to pass away, the other should inherit the whole of the family’s assets. There is nothing wrong with this approach. However, simply deciding these matters as a couple is insufficient to make those intentions become reality when the time comes.

When a person dies without a will, state law dictates how his or her assets will be divided. This means that all surviving relatives may have a claim to those assets, not just the surviving spouse. It is easy to foresee how quickly a family can dissolve into contention when there are substantial assets on the table. Not only may the surviving spouse lose a portion of his or her intended inheritance, but there could be lasting damage to multiple family relationships.

The best way to ensure that one’s wishes are carried out is to create a clear and comprehensive will. This estate planning tool is a legally binding outline of how the deceased party intended for his or her assets to be handled. It is possible to structure a will in such a way that each spouse leaves everything to the other. This can help avoid conflict and confusion when the time comes to call those provisions into action. Of course, if both spouses should die at the same time or within a very short period of time, Pennsylvania state law will dictate how the family’s wealth will be divided.

Source:, “Myths of estate planning“, Lawrence S. Jacobs, May 28, 2016