After the Death of Your Spouse

Your spouse has just passed away. Coping with the loss of your loved one will be difficult. It is important that you allow yourself time to grieve. As soon as you’re able, it is also vitally important to make sure that you take the death of your spouse into account in your estate planning. Let’s look at the various estate planning documents and some of the things that should be considered at this time.

1. Your Trust
You should carefully review the distribution that you have specified to ensure that it is still what you wish. You should also consider whether you might wish to make gifts now to children or other relatives or make a charitable donation. This would reduce the value of your estate for estate tax purposes. It would also provide your children or the charity with funds that they could enjoy now, rather than after your death.

If your trust has not been updated for a number of years, there may be new legal provisions that should be included. Review your trust with your lawyer to ensure that there is no ambiguity and that any changes in the law that may have an impact on yourtrust have been considered.

2. Your will
If you named your spouse as executor, you must name another. You may have named an alternate in the event that your spouse or partner died. If so, you need to consider finding an alternate executor, depending on whether or not your alternate is still willing to act on your behalf at all. Also, your will may not have been revised for a considerable period of time, and you may feel quite different about your initial choice of executor.


3. Powers of attorney
A will only takes effect when you die. Powers of attorney for property and for personal care are documents in which you name someone to make decisions related to your assets and your health care during your lifetime, in the event that you are not able to make those decisions yourself. If you do not have powers of attorney, it’s important to have them prepared. If you do have them, but have named your spouse as agent, you must now name someone else with an alternate should that person be unable or unwilling to act in that capacity in the future. Remember that you do not have to name the same persons as agents for property and for personal care. Some people have expertise in managing assets, while others will be more sensitive to your needs and wishes from a health perspective.

4. Beneficiary designations
You may have designated your spouse as the beneficiary of your annuities, IRA, or other retirement plan. If you do not have a designated beneficiary, the funds would be payable to your estate and would be distributed according to the provisions of your will. You should designate named beneficiaries of your retirement plans. You also must designate named beneficiaries of any retirement plans that you received as beneficiary from your spouse. The alternate beneficiaries named by your spouse will not carry over. If you have any life insurance policies, you may wish to change the beneficiary designation so that the benefit will pass to a named beneficiary or named beneficiaries upon your death.

5. Title to assets
You need to have your deceased spouse’s name removed from all jointly-held assets. This includes real estate, bank accounts, investments, and vehicles. If title was held in your trust, you do not need to amend the trust, or change the name of the trust; you only need to remove the spouse’s name as trustee.

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