By Melissa Myers and Michael J. Tucker, August 2015 Issue.

Melissa Myers: So, I’m seeing a trend among clients that’s a bit disturbing.

Michael J. Tucker: What’s that?

Myers: Couples are out there getting married, and being “just married” seems to make couples generally feel more emotionally secure in general.

Tucker: I gather that’s not the disturbing part.

Myers: No. The part that makes me uneasy is the sense among clients that because they got married, all their legal and financial problems are somehow resolved.

Tucker: Like magic!

Myers: That’s what it feels like in some cases. Of course, if I talk to clients about the financial and legal effect of marriage, even for a minute or two, they can easily focus on the fact that marriage is not a panacea for anyone, gay or straight.

Tucker: I understand. In general, same-sex couples traditionally have a better-developed sense of the need to take affirmative steps to “get their affairs in order.”

Myers: I believe that’s because, for so long, the law provided no legal structure or safety net for their relationships.

Tucker: Certainly there are now some basic protections in the law that will serve same-sex married couples even if they have no planning in place.

Myers: I fear this is causing many same-sex married couples to become complacent about their legal and financial planning.

Tucker: I’m noticing this dynamic, too. Probably about a dozen times in the past several months, when I meet same-sex couples and tell them I work as an estate planning lawyer, I’ve been told something like, “we’re so relieved that we don’t have to deal with all that, now that we’re married.”

Myers: I’m sure it wasn’t personal.

Tucker: You’re right, of course. I think these same-sex married couples will understand, upon even a moment’s reflection, that marriage doesn’t create some sort of automatic safety net for all financial and legal problems.

Myers: We’ve focused quite a bit in these pages on some of the reasons why it might not serve every couple to get married.

Tucker: This related topic of “OK, we’re married, now what?” is also important.

 

Myers: Marriage should trigger a review of the couple’s assets, including investments, including verification of which spouse holds title to which assets.

Tucker: Marriage is also an ideal juncture to review the couple’s arrangements in terms of powers of attorney and wills and the like, in the context of reviewing the couple’s property ownership and debts.

Myers: It’s common that beneficiary designations on retirement plan accounts, life insurance policies and titles to the family home and other real estate also need to be updated.

Tucker: And, reviewing the couple’s debts and who’s legally responsible for them is also important.

Myers: Yes, particularly in view of the effect of Arizona’s community property law.

Tucker: Because many same-sex couples are getting married in middle age or later in life, the effect of community property law can be more complex than for young kids in their twenties getting married for the first time.

Myers: The day-to-day reality of many same-sex couples is that getting legally married doesn’t change anything in terms of how they live their lives.

Tucker: Nevertheless, it’s important to recognize that the difference between married and unmarried can be night and day from a legal perspective.

Myers: If and when couples choose to marry, they should be sure to mention their new marital status to their advisers.

Tucker: That’s also true for couples who got married a long time ago and whose marriages are now legally recognized due to changes in the law.

Myers: There’s never a bad time to discuss changes in your legal or financial circumstances with your advisers – and marriage is right up at the top of that list.

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