Where the Money Goes


Anyone who is part of a couple knows what triggers the most fights. If we are going to brawl, it’s mostly over money, sex, work, children, and housework.

Note the first item on the list is money. It’s a tricky and multi-layered subject. If one partner has more than the other, there is a power imbalance.

A lot of conflict can arise if one partner is a saver and the other a spender. Opposites may attract, but this can turn into a lifelong feud.

There are many monetary issues couples face over the course of a long marriage or relationship. How much to save for retirement, what risks to take when investing, paying for children’s education—the list goes on and on.

Some couples combine their bank accounts, others have a need for separate accounts. There is no end to the potential for conflict.

Just when a couple thinks they have it all figured out, it may be time to make some of the biggest decisions of their lives.

Depending on who predeceases whom, where do the assets go?

In the simplest of instances, the surviving spouse inherits the assets. Upon his or her death, the remaining assets are divided equally among their children.

Well, sure.  Except it isn’t always that simple.

Suppose one or more of the adult children is highly successful. Do the success stories get less than the not-so-successful children, seeing they already have so much? Or what if one of the adult children has cared for an elderly parent for years while siblings made no effort to lend a hand? What’s fair?

Some couples may be on a second or third marriage. They each may have had children with former spouses or partners. They may have had children together. Now it gets complicated, especially if relationships are strained.

There are those couples that admit they have never discussed estate planning. One or both may find the subject too upsetting. Other couples may think they are on the same page and discover they are not even close when they start making out their wills.

Ongoing communication is important, but the subject of what happens to our “stuff” when we are gone may have dropped to the bottom of the list while we were busy living our lives.

The best planning starts with a discussion between spouses or partners. If this is a second (or third or more) marriage, the talk should be had before embarking upon another union. Differing opinions could become deal breakers.

Each scenario is different. If one spouse worked while the other stayed home, the surviving spouse may need more money for his or her support. A spouse with grown children from another relationship may want money to go to them.

Another consideration is the possibility of a couple dying simultaneously. In that case, they may want to set up a contingent gift for any grandchildren. In the event that an adult child should die before a parent, the gift that would have gone to the adult child will pass to his or her children.

If a couple has no children or “heirs apparent,” they need to decide if there is a family member or close friend to whom they want to leave their assets. This can get complicated, and the couple may want to consider to whom they want to leave family heirlooms or valuable collections. They may have a favorite charity that can become the recipient of their largesse.

Today there are more and more grandparents who find themselves raising grandchildren. They need to think about naming a personal and property guardian in the event they should die while the child is still a minor.  

If there are children a couple chooses to disinherit, they may need to specify that intention in their will.

Another consideration is pets. Furry and feathered companions could outlive their owners. A plan needs to be in place for their care and well being after an owner is gone.

These are intimate matters that need to be decided sooner rather than later.

The next step is seeing a lawyer to have a will made. He or she can help clarify the best way to distribute assets. Depending on the amount of the assets, the lawyer should be able to explain trusts, bequests, tax issues, probate, and all the things that estate planning entails.  

Laws vary from state to state. Therefore it is important to understand what needs to go into a will so that a couple’s intentions are fulfilled.

Estate planning is not the easiest or most pleasant thing to do. It may bring up fears and issues that even the most compatible couple will find daunting. But it is important and will, in the long run, bring peace of mind.  


Judith A. Rucki is a public relations consultant and freelance writer. Readers may contact her via the editor at wswearingen@buffalospree.com with ideas for making the golden years sparkle, sizzle, and shine.




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