Property Planning as a Surviving Partner – New York Property Planning Lawyer Weblog – Nov 23, 2020

In the most comprehensive study of its kind, scientists at Harvard and the University of Wisconsin did determined that within the three months after the death of one spouse, the probability that the other will die during this period is between 30 and 90 percent.

As a result, many couples find themselves in a similar situation every year. While the spouses recognize the benefit of drawing up an estate plan, they don’t. In other cases, spouses create an estate plan but do not update it adequately over time. To better prepare spouses to deal with an estate plan in such a situation, this article addresses some critical questions about how to proceed with estate planning as a surviving spouse.

# 1 – recognize common challenges

Before discussing various strategies that can be implemented, it is important to identify some of the most common problems that surviving spouses face, including:

  • Couples sometimes seem to do everything right, including setting up and funding trusts and other estate planning tools. However, a problem can arise when it becomes clear that various assets outside the trust have not been properly addressed.
  • Some spouses keep the finances in separate accounts. Often times, if the deceased spouse did not transfer these assets to a trust or added beneficiaries, those assets must go through probate proceedings.
  • Unfortunately, deceased spouses sometimes create trusts, but then cannot transfer assets to the trust. Failure to transfer assets to a trust can incur additional costs and expose assets to additional tax liability.
  • Tragically, some spouses die without completing estate plans. This can result in the surviving spouse receiving less than expected and sometimes even nothing.

# 2 – Regularly review wills and trusts terms

The terms of trust and wills of both spouses should be reviewed regularly. Sometimes spouses include clauses in the documents that allow the surviving spouse a “second look” to assess whether an estate plan is the best fit. It is also important to carefully review the terms of these documents after the death of a spouse.

While conducting the verification process, surviving spouses should also consider any beneficiary names included on documents such as bank accounts and life insurance forms. While performing this review, the surviving spouse should understand that it is often the responsibility of the surviving spouse to reassign these forms to a new beneficiary name.

# 3 – Eligibility for Benefits

Most of the assets passed through trusts and wills are easy to document. However, surviving spouses should also ensure that they seek benefits or compensation from the government or the spouse’s employer. For example, if a deceased spouse was employed, it is often important to contact the deceased spouse’s employer to ensure that the person’s final paycheck is received. If your spouse has received social security benefits, you should contact them Social Security Administration to assess if you now qualify for any of these benefits.

Contact an experienced estate planning attorney

Since everyone has their own individual estate planning goals, it is important to understand that documents available online almost always do not fully satisfy a couple’s desires. As a result, it can be very helpful to retain the assistance of a qualified estate planning attorney. Contact Ettinger estate planning today to schedule a free case assessment.

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