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The best way to protect one's surviving spouse

A great many Tennessee residents believe that if they are married and plan to leave everything to their spouse, that there is no need to create an estate plan or draft a will. In reality, however, simply being married provides little in the way of estate planning. When an individual dies without a will, his or her surviving spouse will be at the mercy of state law when it comes to inheriting assets. That could result in an outcome far different from that which was intended.

Deciding to leave everything to one's spouse is not an uncommon choice. Married couples live within a partnership, and that bond often runs deep and strong. In addition, many couples have worked very hard to accumulate their family's wealth, and both spouses feel that those assets rightfully belong to them, and to no one else.

In order for a husband or wife to leave everything to one another, it is necessary to create an estate plan. Without a will, assets will be distributed according to state law. That means that other relatives, even those who are distant or with whom the deceased person had virtually no relationship, could end up inheriting a portion of the couple's wealth. This is especially true in cases where the deceased spouse had one or more children from a previous union.

When a Tennessee resident dies with no estate plan in place, the surviving spouse is thrown into a very chaotic and stressful time. In cases where there is no will or other guiding documentation, a lengthy and expensive probate process is also on the horizon. No one wants to put his or her partner through that ordeal. However, without the proper level of planning, the distribution of one's assets can be determined by state law, rather than by a couple's personal financial planning.

Source:, "Myths of estate planning", Lawrence S. Jacobs, May 28, 2016

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