Common estate planning mistakes when one spouse dies

The death of a spouse can be a devastating event, and the emotional pitfalls can be even worse if there was improper planning or errors were made over the deceased spouse’s estate. Difficulties often arise if one spouse handled all financial matters, and the survivor has little or no knowledge of their finances.

Financial and legal experts advise each spouse to have three essential documents: a will, a durable power of attorney and an advanced medical directive. The surviving spouse should know the location of those documents and how to access them.

Proper planning helps you avoid these problems

Besides not being included in financial matters, the surviving spouse can face other easily-avoidable difficulties with proper planning, including:

  • Joint accounts: Couples typically have their banking and other accounts in both their names. However, some spouses like to have their own accounts but fail to place them in a trust or add a beneficiary. The surviving spouse may not have access to those funds without going through an expensive and lengthy probate process.
  • Funding trusts: Some benefactors pro-actively create a trust but fail to follow through by transferring assets. This oversight can also force the assets into probate, and the result may be that they do not go to the intended beneficiaries as well as create unnecessary tax liabilities.
  • Coordinated assets: In this situation, the benefactor funds the trust using bank accounts or insurance policies but does not update their beneficiaries to match the wishes stated in the trust. The result can be that some recipients may get more, and some may get less than intended.

Reviewing your estate plan is critical

Whether you have a simple will or a complicated trust, make sure you review your plans and make changes when necessary, such as for the birth of a child, or the death of a beneficiary. An experienced family law attorney here in New York can help you find the best plan for your situation and make sure it’s up to date, so your wishes are followed, and your family is taken care of in the event of your death.

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