The loss of a spouse or partner is a difficult time for the one left behind. It's also a time when the surviving partner must handle a number of unwelcome tasks. One of these is changing their own estate plan. What elements might you need to alter as a widow or widower? Here are five of the most important reasons to change your estate plan after the loss of a spouse or partner.
1. You Need New Guardians
If you have minor children or pets, you should update your will as soon as possible to account for new guardian arrangements. Most married persons consider their spouse their first choice to care for minors and beloved pets, so you'll now need to add both a new guardian and a contingent one.
2. Estate Assets Are Different
Whether your partner passed away with or without a will, you likely received at least some of their assets. This could make your own estate up to twice as large, depending on state inheritance laws or the will. You may also now have sole responsibility for joint debts. All this affects the size of your own estate and the proportions of distributions.
3. Powers of Attorney Need Updated
Do you have one or more powers of attorney or medical directives? If so, was your spouse the one authorized to make decisions on your behalf? These should be updated as soon as possible. Anything can happen to you at any time, so you always want to have someone available who can take care of you now that your spouse can't.
4. You No Longer Plan as a Couple
Did you and your spouse do estate planning together? If so, what aspects of the wills were done to achieve a combined result? For instance, both partners might include an heir who is a stepchild to one. If the child's biological parent has passed and they received that inheritance, do you want to change your own plans? What about life insurance designed to provide for the other spouse? This would no longer be necessary. Your plans are now based solely on your own estate.
5. You May Form a New Trust
Spouses who had a joint revocable trust with a deceased partner usually have two options for changing it. The first is to make any changes to an amendment and attach it to the trust. However, if you want to make a number of changes, you may need to create a new individual trust instead. Your attorney can help you decide which direction to go.
Where to Start
This is a challenging time, and working with a legal professional will help make it easier. Whether you have a lot of adjustments to make or just a few, they'll smooth the process and reduce stress for you. Call an estate planning attorney in your state today to get started.