Groom Duties

Legal Junk and Paperwork: Health Care Proxy, Wills, and More

Who hoo!  It’s on. Now we’re into the fun stuff. The sexy stuff. The stuff you just can’t wait to read more about. Wills, health care proxies, and the power of attorney. If this won’t grab your attention and suck you in, what will?

What does “Health Care Proxy” mean?

You should be aware of a few things. When you get married, your wife automatically becomes the next of kin, and, depending on what state you live in, she now has the power to kill you.

Excuse me?

Maybe we need to work on that phrasing. We mean your wife will have a legal say in whether or not to keep you on life support, should it be necessary. The legal minutia can be complicated, and it varies from state to state. Generally speaking, for most basic and routine matters, your wife will probably have the authority to make decisions on your behalf.

But don’t take any chances. As we saw years ago with the Terri Schiavo case, if there’s any doubt or ambivalence, lack of proper paperwork could get your wife stuck in a messy, ugly legal battle.

For this reason, the smart move is to sign a Health Care Power of Attorney.  This cuts through the red tape and gives her full authority to act on your behalf if you get hit by a bus, say.  (And vice versa; you should sign the same for her.)

That’s the quick and dirty. Obviously you should talk to a proper lawyer before signing anything.

How about the financial stuff? What’s this I hear about getting a “Power of Attorney?”

For a good chunk of your money, marriage will give your wife the automatic ability to buy, sell, and spend–joint checking accounts, joint brokerage accounts, etc.  Some assets, however, are only in your name or only in her name. Your old car, say. Without a form that gives her “Financial Power of Attorney,”  she won’t have the legal ability to sell your car or access your funds, should you lose your mind or lapse into a coma.  Assuming you trust your wife, you want her to have this power. And vice versa.

How about a will? How does that work?

If you don’t have a will hammered out when you croak, most of your assets default to your wife. (The exact details vary state by state.) That may be fine with you–or it may not. Even though you’re young, healthy, and many decades from death, well, shit happens. Prepare for the worst. Get a proper will so that you can specify exactly how much your wife gets, how much your family gets, and how much goes to your old ex-girlfriend. Kidding. (Right?)

To do some proper estate planning, however, you should look into getting a revocable living trust.  This will require much more homework and probably speaking to an honest-to-God lawyer (not some shmucks on a wedding site), but to get started, get an overview here.

For other complications in the wedding planning process, click here.

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