You’ve been widowed... now what?
This post discusses common issues and challenges faced by newly widowed persons, and answers a question that was recently asked of me at a Seminar I had presented, “How to Avoid Probate”.
There are many legal and financial considerations that need to be addressed by a recent widow(er). After the initial shock and grief have been absorbed, a person can be left feeling confused and unsure of what to do in order to best secure their financial future and to ensure that their family is protected from the consequences of failing to plan for their own estate.
So, what to do after your spouse dies?
I would advise that you consult a qualified estate planning attorney and a financial planner. Pull together your financial information; get acquainted with your current asset, income, and debt situation. This is particularly important if you were not the primary person to handle finances in the relationship. You will now be responsible for your own financial maintenance, and it is important that you are able to understand the nature and quality of your investments, and determine the best strategy for ensuring that you will be able to live comfortably within those means. Perhaps you need to downsize your home, or update your life insurance policy? A financial planner can assist you with these issues.
You should also consult an experienced probate & estate attorney to probate your spouse’s will, if he or she left one. You may also need to re-title certain assets, if they are in your former spouse’s name, collect life insurance policies on your own behalf, and consider whom you have named as beneficiary on your own life insurance policies or retirement plans. If your spouse is still your named beneficiary, then now is the time to change that designation. You may also be entitled to certain government benefits such as Survivor’s Benefits from the Social Security Administration, which has information here: http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10084.html
or certain benefits that are payable to surviving spouses of Veterans. Those benefits can include such assistance as bereavement counseling, burial assistance, or death pensions. Specific information on Veteran’s Benefits can be found here:
You will also need to consider your own estate planning needs. Have you written a will? What would happen if you were to die? Have you taken steps to ensure that your final wishes are carried out, and that the people whom you want to take care of will in fact be protected?
If you fail to take steps ahead of time, then the assets that are in your name alone when you die will pass through the probate court, ensuring a costly, public, and lengthy administration. Because you now own all of your marital property, your estate may be quite large. If your estate is sufficiently large enough to reach the estate tax threshold ($1 million in Massachusetts, $3.5 million Federal, for deaths occurring in 2009) then you absolutely should consult an estate planning attorney, who can help you to minimize the tax bite.
An estate planning attorney will assess the best plan for you, reviewing such factors as your health, family particulars, assets, income, expenses & debts, and create an estate plan that best fits your specific needs and wishes.
Note that if you have children or grandchildren with special needs, or family members who may be subject to bankruptcy proceedings or a child who might be facing divorce, then you need to consider how best to plan for them. If you don’t plan ahead, it is likely that the people you want to protect won’t be so protected, and the people that you don’t want to reap the benefits of inheritance (creditors or ex-spouses) might enjoy a nice bite of your children’s inheritance. An attorney can help you wade through these issues and determine the plan that is right for YOU, whether that is a simple estate plan or a more sophisticated plan that includes a trust.
While all of these considerations may seem overwhelming, it is important that you get your affairs in order, and work with experienced professionals who will assist you. May you find peace and comfort in your memories, and joy in the journey still ahead.
*** The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. You are invited to contact the office to arrange an appointment. Contacting Attorney Kent does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to the office until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.