Your spouse’s passing is among the hardest hurdles you’ll ever face. When you’ve built a life with another person, losing them does not just mean losing your best friend and biggest supporter, it also means losing a part of who you are. Your partner is gone, and the horizon has changed shape. In the wake of becoming a widow or widower, it can be hard to attend to administrative tasks like updating your estate plan, and yet doing so is important.
Once you’ve processed your grief and have the space, set time aside to review your estate plan and note any new holes that have emerged. To start, you’ll want to check if your spouse had been named to any of the following roles:
1. Executor of Your Estate
Many people choose their spouse as executor of their estate. As your closest confidant, this makes sense, and yet should they pass first, you put yourself at serious risk. Your executor is responsible for cataloging your accounts and property, addressing outstanding debts, and distributing your assets among your beneficiaries. Naturally, you want someone you trust and love to fill this role (rather than an individual appointed by the state) and so should it fall vacant a new designation should be made as quickly as possible.
2. Co- or Successor Trustee
If you have a revocable living trust (RLT), you know how important it is to designate a co-trustee and successor trustee. If anything happens to you, this is the person who steps in to manage, invest, and distribute the assets contained in your RLT on your behalf. Had your spouse been appointed to this role, you will want to consult your trust agreement before making a new appointment as, often, instructions on how to do so are contained therein.
3. Financial Attorney (POA)
The person named to this role carries the responsibility of making financial and legal decisions on your behalf should you suffer incapacitation. Once again, many people designate their spouse here and therefore it is an urgent need to make updates when a spouse passes.
4. Healthcare Agent
In making sure your financial house is in order, don’t forget about yourself. A Healthcare Agent (or Healthcare Proxy) has the responsibility of ensuring your wishes are carried out if you are unable to do so. Therefore, it’s important to have those conversations so your Healthcare Agent knows what your wishes are. Again, this responsibility often falls to a spouse, so be sure the appropriate updates are made if they have passed.
5. Guardianship Designations
If you have minor children or dependents and have recently become a widow or widower, you are surely facing immense pressure. Parenting is scary but parenting alone can be downright terrifying. Designating a guardian you love and trust to step in should anything happen to you is a small act that offers substantial peace of mind. This is something you and your spouse probably did together and yet now that they’re gone, family dynamics may have shifted and an update may be in order.
While the estate planning updates addressed above may be the most pressing, they are not the only matters that require your attention following the death of a spouse. To learn more about protecting your family and yourself upon becoming a widow or widower, do not hesitate to reach out to the Estate Planning Law Group of Georgia.