Wedding-planning is a billion dollar industry in the United States.
My husband Chad and I had a gorgeous wedding. We spent months curating a day that would celebrate our relationship and give all our favorite people a great time together. Good food. Fun music. The flowers! The cupcakes!
I don’t regret any of it for a second. But you know what I wish? I wish couples spent as much time talking about their legacy as they did talking about their wedding details.
I get the privilege of sitting down with couples and families all the time, and while most can tell me what their wedding colors were or what song they danced their first dance to…most can’t tell me their family values. And it’s not because they don’t have values….of course they have causes they care about and attributes they want their household to model…but they’ve just never taken the time to articulate what they are so they can make decisions based on them.
Values and goals, my friends, are KEY to legacy planning. So, here’s a list of the conversations Chad and I have had (and are still having) that have helped us form a solid and strategic life and legacy plan. And they translate to any relationship…so whether you’re dating someone, you’re newlyweds, or you’ve been married 50 years, pour a cup of coffee and talk it out! You’ll be glad you did.
What Are Your Values and Goals?
Be specific, write ’em down, and prioritize them if you’d like. Some things to consider:
- What do you want your life to be about?
- How do you want to be remembered?
- What do you hope to accomplish during life?
Keep in mind that your pre-kid goals might look different than when/if you have children, or even after those children have left the home. The answers to these questions should influence how you live your life, but may also impact how you want to set things up in your estate plan, how much life insurance you need, and so much more.
Do You Understand Your Assets?
Make a quick list of your assets and approximate values of them. Include your home and any additional property or real estate you own, checking and savings accounts, annuities, mutual funds, retirement accounts, stocks, bonds, securities, vehicles, cash, and other significant possessions.
- What assets or accounts do you share, and/or which ones are in one partner’s name?
- Is there anything that you intend to keep separate? Why?
For instance, my husband and I made the choice to share everything with the exception of one checking/savings account that I brought into the marriage. We set it up to have it pay to my husband upon my death, but we liked the flexibility this account gives us. I love my random side hustles, like giving historical food tours through Hudson Food Walk, and saving that income in a separate account to fund spontaneous adventures and hobbies was important to me. What are the unique assets in your relationship, and how might those be documented?
How Do Children Fit Into Your Legacy?
Do you have children or plan to have them some day? Or, are there any other young people in your life who you would like to designate as heirs in case something happens to you and your assets need to be passed on? It’s so important to understand the many ways a legacy plan can be set up for heirs’ benefit. And it is important to be on the same page about how much to leave children and loved ones–and how that should happen. Some questions to consider:
- First of all: make a list of your kids. This sounds simple…but do either of you have children from previous relationships? Anyone else you would add to your list of heirs?
- If there are children from a previous relationship, do you intend to care for them together or separately during life…or through your legacy plan?
- Do you have any children with special needs, money challenges, and/or an addiction that might need different provisions than other children?
Caring for children is often the first goal of a legacy plan, and it’s so important to spell out what that actually means to each of you.
Should You Update Accounts & Beneficiary Designations?
Before you create even a basic will, there’s a lot you can do to ensure your assets go where you want them to in the case of your death. One of the easiest things you can do is update your beneficiary/beneficiaries on your accounts and assets, which can be done through your administrator or financial advisor.
For example, before I got married, I had named my sisters as beneficiaries on several of my accounts. Once I got married, I updated my documents so my spouse will now receive these assets if something happens to me. My sisters are still my secondary beneficiaries, because we don’t currently have children, and my husband’s siblings are his secondary beneficiaries…when/if children enter the picture, we’ll update those beneficiaries again to ensure they’re cared for. Here are some places to check to ensure your beneficiary designations fit your current stage of life and relationship status:
- Savings and checking accounts
- Investments such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc.
- Retirement accounts such as IRAs, Roth IRAs, 403(b)s, 401(k)s
- Military benefits
- Life insurance (employer-based & stand alone policies)
- Real estate and vehicle titles
Do You Need Life Insurance? How Much?
Ask yourself: do you have children, a mortgage/debt, or other responsibilities that will put either spouse in a tough spot in case of a death?
A basic life insurance policy, like the ones often provided by an employer, will cover immediate expenses related to a funeral and burial.
But if you have children, many experts recommend having enough supplemental life insurance to also cover the cost of the deceased’s salary until your youngest is 18 or 21.
Same is true of your house: your life insurance policy should also cover the remaining mortgage balance. In the case of an untimely death, it’s best to leave one spouse with a fully-paid-off house so they can continue to live life as normally as possible, and in a familiar place, without having to worry about making ends meet without that spouse’s income.
If you have no kids, a house worth $400,000, and $300,000 left on the mortgage, you’d likely want to have a policy that will cover the $300,000 and at least one year of each spouse’s income.
If you have 2 kids (ages 7 and 4), a house worth $400,000, a $300,000 mortgage, and an income of $50,000/year…you may want a $1 million policy because this will pay off the mortgage for the remaining spouse and replace your income until your youngest turns 18.
This will help the remaining spouse to maintain as consistent a lifestyle as possible in your absence.
If the above scenario is true, but you are the primary caretaker of your children and do not have a salary, you may either 1) be forced to take a job in the absence of your spouse or 2) need significant additional income to take the place of your spouse’s. Add in coverage for the cost of childcare and any housekeeping activities that you manage.
Should You Create/Update Your Will?
As a legacy consultant, my answer to this will always be “yes!” It’s best to have a basic will in place, even if you don’t think you have significant assets, and to update your will/plan frequently. There’s nothing worse than assets and key decisions getting stuck in probate because there was no trust or clear directives in place. Some things to think about before contacting Apex or a lawyer:
- If you already have a will and/or trust in place, does it accurately reflect your current relationship status and family dynamics?
- If you don’t have a will and/or trust yet, how do you want assets to be allocated in case of one or both of your deaths?
- If you have children and/or pets, who should act as their guardian in your absence?
- Who will be your power(s) of attorney and/or healthcare power(s) of attorney? (Note: Advanced Health Care Directives forms are different in each state. Everplans has done a nice job pulling all the states links to this one place).
This post could make legacy planning seem very number- and asset-centric…and it can be. But there’s a lot more to legacy, so be sure to talk about the “softer” side, too. My husband and I take time twice a year to discuss the logistics we’ve listed here, and to talk through our relational health, personal, and marital goals. We might be crazy, but we love the intentional space this creates to touch base on any logistical updates we need to make, as well as check in on how we are doing and how we can support each other.
Need help on this journey? We’d love to be a sounding board and help you put together a plan that fits this stage in your life and marriage.
Co-Owner and CEO
Christy has a background in higher education, marketing, and event management. She brings oodles of business sense, leadership, and a winsome personality to the team. Christy’s professional degrees include a B.A. in Psychology, B.A. in Communication, and M.A. in Higher Education.