Many couples enter marriage with stars in their eyes; we will be together forever; we will grow old together; nothing can come between us. And then life happens. Life can be messy and hard. A spouse may have an accident or develop a terminal illness. He or she may become mentally incapacitated. He/she might leave the family or become abusive. During times when emotions are running high the last thing you want to deal with is the nitty gritty details of life, but not doing so could have serious, possibly permanent, consequences.
If you and your spouse have co-mingled bank accounts, health and life insurance, brokerage accounts or you jointly own property, all those things may need to be “un-mingled.” If one spouse develops a long-term illness (not necessarily a terminal one), has a serious accident, or is diagnosed with the onset of a serious mental problem, such as dementia, this is the time to begin estate planning if you haven’t already. Talk to a lawyer about wills, guardianship of minor children and a living will for healthcare decisions. If a mental issue is involved, one spouse may need to secure power of attorney and perhaps guardianship for the affairs of the affected person.
If a divorce or abandonment occurs, remove the former spouse from bank accounts, credit card accounts, your company’s health insurance and any other joint accounts. Change the beneficiary on your life insurance policies (this is the one issue most people forget). The divorce decree should divide physical assets, such as a house, cars and furniture. Anything not covered, you will need to decide how to handle. It may be tempting to keep it all and make the person who left do without, but take the higher ground and be fair. If children are involved and a child support order needs to be enforced, contact Health and Welfare in your state and set up an account. They will handle collection, including tracking down the one who left if necessary.
Don’t be caught unaware when life throws you a curve ball. By thinking about the “what ifs” now, you will be better prepared should something happen in the future.