Estate Planning Issues That Arise When a Couple Gets Married Later in Life Bringing Children and Assets into the Marriage

It's common these days for two people to get married later in life after getting either divorced, or outliving their first spouse. It's also common for those spouses who get married later in life to have adult children, and they also often bring significant assets into the marriage. This post addresses some of the estate legal issues that are involved when spouses get married later in life.

When no advance legal planning is addressed prior to the marriage, problems often arise after the death of one of the spouses. It's common for there to be confusion regarding who owns the marital assets. Do they belong to the husband? Do they belong to the wife? Which assets are community property? Is there any community or separate debt? Are there any reimbursement issues? These problems get compounded when the people having the discussioin/argument are the surviving spouse and the children of the first spouse to die.

Basic Louisiana community property law dictates that anything acquired during the marriage through the effort or skill of either spouse is community property. Some spouses mistakenly believe that if these "earnings" remain in the name of the spouse who earned them, then those assets would remain the separate property of that spouse.

Basic Louisiana community property law also dictates that the natural and civil fruits of the separate property of a spouse are community property. Again, many spouses mistakenly preseum that if a spouse has "separate" investments, then the interest and dividends that those "separate" investments produce must be separate property - not so.

Some spouses, particularly those with income producing assets, will sign a declaration reserving the fruits of their separate property as separate property. But this cannot be done without their spouse knowing about it. A copy of the declaration must be provided to the other spouse, and the declaration must be filed in the appropriate public real estate records.

Many couples who get married later in life, each of whom has children of their own, and each of whom have significant assets they want to "protect," sign a matrimonial agreement, also known as a "pre-nup," "marriage contract," or "separate property agreement." Couples who do this typically attempt the modify the default community property rules that exist in Louisiana when a matrimonial agreement is not in place.

Many matrimonial agreements provide that each spouse will have their own separate assets and debts, and there will be no community property. This can make it easier to determine "who owns what" when one spouse dies. When done right, there are no community property issues, community debt issues, reimbursement issues, or other claims that the estate of the first spouse to die might have against the surviving spouse. These agreements are typically signed by both spouse prior to the marriage, and they must be recorded in the appropriate public real estate records.

And then the next issue that must be addressed after the above is addressed is: How to leave our respective estates to each other and our children or other heirs - the will and trust discussion.

This post is for informational purposes only and does not provide legal advice. Please do not act or refrain from acting based on anything you read on this site. Using this site or communicating with Rabalais Estate Planning, LLC, through this site does not form an attorney/client relationship.

Paul Rabalais

Louisiana Estate Planning Attorney

Phone: (225) 329-2450