"The times, they are a-changin'" says a famous Bob Dylan song. This is definitely true regarding family units. Fewer couples resemble the Ward-and-June-Cleaver model. More and more people, as they begin the path of estate planning, are married to a second, third or subsequent spouse. A careful plan can help ensure that you leave that spouse the legacy you intended.
Planning for a second spouse can be more complicated than a first spouse. If you and your spouse married later in life, a greater possibility exists that you each brought your own assets and wealth to the marriage. In addition, you may desire to leave that wealth to your own children from a previous marriage. In some cases, both parties are well off, and do not need anything from the other. Alternately, your spouse may have more limited means and a need for assistance if he/she is widowed.
Regardless of your spouse's financial condition, state laws exist to prevent individuals from entirely disinheriting their spouses. Wisconsin is a "community property" state, meaning that your spouse automatically has a right to 50% the earnings accumulated by either of you during the marriage (unless there is a written marital property agreement or "prenuptial").
Another concern for some second marriages involved a desire to care for a new spouse, but not for his/her children from a previous marriage. In the past, some individuals established estate plans that placed assets in a trust for the benefit of the spouse. The trustee distributed assets to the spouse during his/her lifetime and then, after that spouse died, the trustee distributed the remaining assets to the trust creator's natural children.
If you and your spouse agree to such a trust arrangement, or agree that he/she will receive nothing (or very little of monetary value) from your estate when you die, it is important to obtain your spouse's consent in writing. A prenuptial or postnuptial agreement can be effective at documenting this consent.