Before April and I got married, we decided that we wanted to live our lives fully together. One way that this was represented was combining everything we owned: all of our bank accounts are combined, and we’re each other’s beneficiaries on everything.
I always assumed that this was the default in marriage, but I’ve been meeting more people for whom it isn’t the case. They might have some joint accounts, but other separate accounts. Some couples split up the bills, with one person paying the mortgage and the other paying utilities and for groceries and whatnot. Others stay completely separate and split the cost on everything.
For us, we have everything together. And every account is in Mint.com, and we can both see every financial transaction.
I felt like this was a pretty high level of integration and transparency, but last week we finished putting together our estate plan after several months of talking about it and working through the process. An estate plan is similar to a last will and testament, but because we have a kid, it gets a bit more complicated. Instead of creating a will, we wanted to create a trust.
You can’t leave stuff to a minor, so you have two options. You can leave everything to the people who will become your child’s guardians, or you can create a trust. If you go with the first option and something bad happens, like the new dad is in a car accident and gets sued, the person suing could take all their funds including what you left to your kid. But if you put the money into a trust, then it’s safe; it can only be used for your child(ren).
So we wanted to setup a trust, and along the way we also setup a health power of attorney (POA) and a financial POA so people could make decisions for us if we are incapacitated, and lots of other paperwork. One of the things we setup was a POA for each other, so I can sign things on April’s behalf and she can sign things on mine.
The lawyer told us that April didn’t need to come in to pick up the binder at the end of the process, so she stayed home with a napping Simon. While I was reviewing the documents, I found a minor typo that needed to be corrected, so the paralegal tore out two pages, printed new ones, and we needed to sign them. But since I have POA for April, I could sign on her behalf rather than dragging her into the office.
This was a whole new level of… I don’t even know what to call it. Financial togetherness? Legal entanglement? Our trust is revocable so we can amend or tear it up whenever we want. But when I was driving home with all the paperwork, I had this feeling like we had leveled up. While all our stuff was shared, we still very much had a legal firewall in that I couldn’t sign things for April and she couldn’t sign things for me. That’s important to me: I want her consent on things that affect us and vice versa.
But I know that we’re responsible, and we care about each other, and we won’t abuse this. And it’s kind of neat, because removing that legal barrier then means we have to rely on our love and trust. It reminds me of Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the state of Pennsylvania about Quakers: you can’t legislate morality. And by removing the legislation that prevented us from committing one another to legal or financial agreements, we now have a greater obligation to be moral and ethical with and to each other.
It doesn’t change anything in practice for us. But it did prompt me to reflect on this, and that reflection filled me with happiness. I love that I found someone I can trust and who trusts me.