If you are engaged to be married, divorce is probably the last thing you and your fiancé want to be thinking about. Yet you might be rightfully concerned about what would happen to your assets should your marriage end in divorce or in the event of your death. One option you might be considering for protecting your assets from these events is a prenuptial agreement. However, even bringing up a prenup can be a romance killer that creates friction and distrust before the marriage even begins. And if it’s not properly created and executed, a divorce court can invalidate the asset protection offered by a prenup, so such agreements don’t exactly provide airtight protection. Plus, a prenup would do nothing to keep your family out of court and out of conflict should you become incapacitated or when you die, which is something everyone who gets married needs to consider.
That said, prenups aren’t your only option. With proactive estate planning, for example, you can structure your assets in such a way that not only protects them from being lost to divorce, but also provides for both your future spouse and any children you may have from a previous marriage in the event of your death or incapacity.
In part one of this series, we discussed some of the benefits and drawbacks associated with using prenuptial agreements. Here, we’ll look at different estate planning vehicles that could provide similar — or even better — protection than prenups.
Revocable living trust created by you
By setting up a revocable living trust and funding it with your separate assets before getting married, those assets would likely be considered non-marital property and not subject to division by the court upon divorce — as long as you never commingle any of those assets with your spouse after your marriage. To ensure your separate property assets stay separate, it’s vital that you create and fund the trust with your assets before the marriage and never add any assets acquired or created during the marriage.
If you commingle assets acquired during the marriage in a trust containing your separate non-marital assets, a court could declare all of those assets as marital property subject to claim as part of a divorce settlement. To this end, a revocable trust only protects your separate assets from divorce if they remain separate from marital property throughout the whole length of your marriage.
You can also use a revocable living trust to provide for your surviving spouse and children from a previous marriage in the event of your death or incapacity. Unlike a will, assets held by a trust are not subject to the court process known as probate, so those assets would be immediately available to your spouse and kids, sparing your family the time, expense, and potential conflict of probate.
Note that since a revocable trust is “revocable” by definition, there is no asset protection for assets in your revocable trust, meaning that a revocable living trust will not protect your assets from creditors during your lifetime. If you want to achieve protection from both a future divorce and future creditors, you may want to consider one of the irrevocable trusts below.
Irrevocable trust created by your family
You can protect your assets from divorce by having your parents (or another loved one) establish an irrevocable trust for you before your marriage. Then, the Investment Trustee of the irrevocable trust (who could be you) could purchase all of your existing assets in an arms-length transaction and manage those assets inside of the trust, where they are totally protected from a future divorce and any future creditors. Note that this strategy does require special provisions to ensure you cannot make distributions to yourself from the trust without the approval of an “independent trustee.” This trustee could be a best friend or a professional trustee, but cannot be anyone related or subordinate to you. Your parents or grandparents could also leave any future inheritance you are to receive to this irrevocable trust, ensuring that your inheritance would also be protected. If this irrevocable trust is properly established and the terms are well-counseled and well-drafted, all assets the trust owns — and any assets left to you in the future — will be fully protected from a future divorce, future creditors, and even from estate taxes and probate upon your death.
Irrevocable trust created by you
It’s also possible for you to establish an irrevocable trust for yourself and gift your assets into the trust to keep them safe from divorce. However, this strategy is not as airtight as having a parent or grandparents establish the trust for you. When you gift assets to an irrevocable trust, there’s a risk that a spouse or future creditor can claim fraudulent conveyance, if you gift those assets within a certain number of years (the exact time frame depends on the state) of the trust being set up. That said, if you are looking for asset protection and an alternative to a prenuptial agreement, and do not have a parent or grandparent available, a self-settled irrevocable trust can be a great second-best alternative.
Start your marriage off right
If you are getting ready to tie the knot and would like to ensure that assets you bring into the marriage don’t end up being lost in a future divorce settlement or are protected for your kids from a prior marriage, learn all of your options well before your marriage. Once you are married, many planning options are off the table.
And regardless of your concerns about divorce, you definitely need to create or update your estate plan to protect and provide for your soon-to-be-spouse and any children you have in the event of your death or incapacity.
This article is a service of the Law Office of Keoni Souza, LLC, an estate planning law firm in Honolulu, Hawaii. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That is why we offer a strategic planning session, during which you will get more financially organized than you have ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by contacting our office today to schedule a planning session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.
Disclaimer: Unfortunately, I am not your lawyer unless you have paid me for legal advice and we have a signed agreement. Therefore, all information on this website is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. You should contact an attorney trained to work with families on estate planning matters regarding your specific situation. Use of and access to this website or any of the email links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between the Law Office of Keoni Souza, LLC, and any users or any other party.