Category Archives: Debt

When does it make sense to do a Living Trust?

Dear Liza: We are a young family with significant debt  and very little in tangible assets (we completely own just one car — we rent our house).  However, my wife and I have plans of significantly decreasing debt and increasing assets/wealth in the future.  Is it worth the time/costs to create a Living Trust now?  Or should we wait until we actually have assets?  Does it matter?

Because you have a young child, what you really need right now is a Will, naming guardians for your kids and putting a plan in place to manage assets for those kids until they grow up. If you don’t own a house right now, or more than 100K in the bank, I’d say, wait on the trust. The purpose of a trust is to transfer what you’ve got to your kids efficiently and inexpensively. But if you’ve really got nothing to transfer, the trust doesn’t buy you much at the moment. You could certainly create a living trust now, in anticipation of your future wealth, but if there’s nothing to fund that trust with at the moment, I’d say hold off. But do get that Will done. 🙂

Your Husband’s Debts–the Gift that Keeps on Giving

Dear Liza: My brother died recently. He owned community property with his Wife. Is she now responsible for his debts?

Most likely, yes. In community property states, debts incurred during the marriage are the responsibility of the community. So, after the death of a spouse, the surviving spouse is liable for those debts. I can’t tell from the question whether or not your brother lived in a community property state, or in a state with common law rules, and signed an agreement making their property community. If so, it depends on what that Agreement actually says–sometimes Agreements specifically keep debt separate.

The community property states are Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. (In Alaska, spouses can sign an agreement making their assets community property, but few people choose to do this.) The common law states are everywhere else. Nolo has a great article on this: “Debt and Marriage.” Here’s a helpful excerpt :

In states that follow “common law” property rules, debts incurred by one spouse are usually that spouse’s debts alone, unless the debt was for a family necessity, such as food or shelter for the family or tuition for the kids. (These are general rules; some states have subtle variations in how they treat joint and separate debts.)