Most couples in the Brandon, Mississippi area come into the Palmer & Slay office together when it is time to draft or update their estate plans. Yes, plans. Each person has their own individual estate plan even in circumstances where a high net worth couple needs to work in tandem to reduce their overall tax burden.
This raises a good question: should each member of a couple work with a separate estate planning attorney to make sure their individual interests are protected? The answer to this question is every lawyer’s favorite answer: it depends.
Couples Can Generally Share An Estate Planning Attorney
Married couples can generally work with a single estate planning attorney without any problem. Most people draft estate plans that name their spouse as their estate administrator, give their spouse power of attorney, and leave their spouse the bulk of their assets.
You have to be on the same page as your partner for this to work well, and working with the same attorney makes it a bit easier. Having one attorney draft two sets of documents that need to work together makes sense.
However, as with most things, there is an exception. If you have a large estate, and you are using advanced estate planning techniques to protect your assets and reduce your tax burden, and your spouse is calling all the shots, you may want to have your own attorney take a look at the documents you are being asked to sign and explain them to you.
A Cautionary Tale
A recent lawsuit really highlights this issue. Hedge fund billionaire John A. Overdeck and his wife Laura Overdeck filed for divorce earlier this year. One of the filings in the case revealed that the couple’s estate plan is a major point of contention.
Ms. Overdeck alleges that the couple’s legal advisors moved billions of dollars worth of joint assets from their home state of New Jersey to trusts in Wyoming in order to avoid taxes. (Not unusual as Wyoming is a well-known tax haven.) But unbeknownst to her, the trusts also contain provisions that could have her removed as a trustee, and reduce her and her children’s share of the trusts’ assets if the couple divorces — which they are now doing.
Hindsight is 20/20, but it would have been a good idea for Ms. Overdeck to hire her own attorneys to review the documents she was being asked to sign and explain them to her. Trusting her husband’s attorneys to look out for her best interests did not work out in this situation.
Preserving Your Wealth. Protecting Your Loved Ones.
No matter what your net worth, making sure you understand what the estate planning documents you are signing do is an important part of the estate planning process. Your wishes should always be reflected in the documents, and it is impossible to know if they are unless you go through them with your attorney to make sure your plan will work the way you intend.
The Palmer & Slay team always walks through the documents we have created for our clients, and makes sure they work as intended. During this walk-through there are no silly questions. We want our clients to be happy with their estate plan, even if they will not be around when the majority of their plan is implemented.
If you have questions about the estate planning process, the experienced attorneys at Palmer & Slay PLLC are here for you. Please contact us today to set up a meeting.