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Estate Planning for Surviving Spouses

After losing a spouse or longtime partner, it’s difficult to look past your grief. However, it’s crucial to understand the important and timely decisions you must make regarding your finances and personal estate plan.

Review Both Estate Plans. To avoid problems, first schedule a meeting with your estate planning attorney. It is not uncommon to discover assets you are unaware of, allowing for planning opportunities to transfer tax-free wealth. With the loss of a spouse’s income, uncovering assets may also help secure the surviving spouse’s finances. You may also discover incomplete beneficiary designations, incorrect titling of assets, or an overlooked grandchild who is new to the family.

Rules and Deadlines for Asset Transfers. There are some powerful wealth transfer tools available to you as a surviving spouse. Your estate planning attorney can advise you of the decision-making deadlines inherent to your situation.

Tax Laws. Inheritance tax laws can be confusing. As a surviving spouse, you have the option to file a federal tax return for that year as a single individual or as a married couple to receive higher deductions as long as you don’t remarry that year.

A surviving spouse may need to make a portability election maximizing the amount transferred estate-tax-free to the next generation. If the decedent didn’t use a revocable trust to shelter assets from the probate process, there are timelines to meet with the probate court. Many more scenarios exist, and a surviving spouse must prioritize assessing the estate plan and finances while grieving.

After a spouse passes, much of the attention of legal services focuses on managing their estate, rather than the legal needs of the surviving spouse. There are circumstances when wills and trust configurations permit a surviving spouse a “second look” to see if the decedent’s estate plan is still a proper fit. Existing estate plan documents in the surviving spouse’s name require review to change beneficiaries or representatives as necessary.

Documents Other Than Wills and Trusts. Review related legal documents, including Durable Powers of Attorney (DPOA), Medical Power of Attorney (Health Care Proxies), and HIPAA Release Forms. Be sure to provide an updated copy to anyone who has the old document and make them aware of any changes.

Reviewing and making appropriate changes to your estate plan with the guidance of an estate planning attorney will protect you as the surviving spouse. It’s a challenge to review this during an emotional time, but you need to prepare yourself for the future.

Contact this office today for help finding an estate planning attorney who can guide you through this process.

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