If you recently lost your spouse, you are undoubtedly going through a period of grief and heightened emotions. It may be some time before you want to address the legal and practical consequences of your spouse’s passing. To avoid unintended consequences, however, you should take the time to update your estate plan shortly after the loss of a spouse. The Beverly estate planning attorneys at DeBruyckere Law Offices explain some estate plan updates that typically follow the loss of a spouse.
Your Last Will and Testament
Along with removing your spouse as a beneficiary under the provisions of your Will, you may also need to remove him/her as the Executor of your estate and appoint someone new to the position. Your current Will should include language that accounts for the possibility of a beneficiary predeceasing you; however, knowing that you will be the last spouse to die may change how you want your estate distributed. Your spouse probably left you significant assets which changes the make-up of your estate assets. Your Will may also already have language appointing someone else as your Executor if your spouse cannot serve; however, you now need to decide if that successor remains your first choice and, if so, who should be your replacement successor.
A trust agreement is a popular addition to the average estate plan. If your plan includes a trust, and you appointed your spouse to be the Trustee of the trust, you may need to amend the trust agreement to appoint a new Trustee. Again, your trust agreement should anticipate the possibility of the need for a successor Trustee; however, it still warrants a review. More importantly, the purpose for the trust should be reviewed considering your spouse’s death. Assets may need to be added to the trust. Terms may need to be updated. You may even find that the need for the trust no longer exists.
Life Insurance Policies
Your spouse is also likely the primary beneficiary of your life insurance policies. Start by reviewing the continuing need for the insurance given the recent passing of your spouse. If you decide to retain the insurance, review, and update beneficiaries.
If you have an advance directive in place, you probably named your spouse as your Agent, giving him/her the legal authority to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to make them at some point. This is not a document that you want to terminate; however, you will need to spend some time deciding who you wish to appoint as your Agent now that your spouse is gone.
Power of Attorney
Many married couples create reciprocal general powers of attorney so that each spouse has the legal authority to act on behalf of the other spouse. Often, this is part of a larger incapacity planning component. If you had a POA in place, you should decide if you want to execute a new one that gives an adult child general POA or create a limited POA giving an adult child (or someone else) limited authority.
If you do not already have a comprehensive incapacity plan in place, it is crucial that you create one considering your spouse’s death. While your spouse was alive, the law would generally have deferred to him/her to make decisions and/or exert control over your assets if you could not because of your incapacity. Now, however, it is much less certain who would have the legal right to step in and make decisions and/or control your assets. That, in turn, increases the likelihood of a contentious court battle between adult children or other family members if you ever do become incapacitated. The best way to prevent this from happening while simultaneously ensuring that your wishes will be honored is to incorporate a comprehensive incapacity plan into your overall estate plan.
Contact Beverly Estate Planning Attorneys
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns about updating your estate plan following the loss of a spouse, contact the Beverly estate planning attorneys at DeBruyckere Law Offices by calling (603) 894-4141 or (978) 969-0331 to schedule an appointment.