Estate Planning Considerations After the Death of a Spouse
Our law firm can help you move forward through this difficult time
Losing a spouse is hard for anyone. You're not only left to pick up the pieces and learn to live with the hole in your heart but also to handle funeral planning and all the financial and legal implications of their passing. In particular, losing a spouse means you will likely have to make significant updates to your estate plan.
We've walked with many Arizonans through some of the most challenging times of their lives, and we can assure you that there is a path forward. You can rebuild your estate plan and make sure your legacy is secure with assistance from an experienced estate planning attorney.
Organize and administer your spouse's assets
In Arizona, a surviving spouse typically inherits all of their deceased spouse's assets unless their Last Will and Testament specified otherwise. The big exception is in "blended families;" if your spouse has descendants from a previous relationship, they are typically entitled to a portion of your spouse's separate and community property.
Either way, opening an estate and administering their final affairs is necessary. If you are named as the personal representative in their Last Will and Testament, then you will be in charge of managing the estate and distributing assets (whether to yourself or any other heirs). If someone else was named as the executor, you should contact that person immediately to confirm they can still fulfill the responsibility. If your spouse died without a will, or the person named in their will is unable or unwilling to serve, then the court must appoint a personal representative. Your estate planning attorney can guide you through this process and help you settle the estate.
Administering the estate gives you the opportunity to carry out your spouse's final wishes as laid out in their Last Will and Testament. If they wanted a donation to be made to charity in their memory, for example, there is some degree of comfort and closure in carrying out that wish.
Update your estate planning documents
If you had named your spouse as your personal representative in your Last Will and Testament, that role will now need to go to someone else. The same applies if you had named your spouse as your trustee, power of attorney, healthcare proxy, or a beneficiary on an asset such as life insurance or retirement. This isn't strictly required if you had already named an alternate on those documents, but it's still a good idea to update everything to ensure that there is no confusion.
More broadly, when you've had some time to process your loss, it's important to consider whether your estate planning priorities are affected by the loss of your spouse. If providing for their future needs was one of your previous priorities, for example, it may make sense to reevaluate some aspects of your estate plan.
In addition, your updated estate plan should account for any assets you inherited from your spouse. For instance, if you were the beneficiary on your spouse's retirement account, you can roll that over into your name and account for it in your estate plan. Any assets that were held jointly should be updated to just be in your name.
Remember to take it slow
Now is not the time to make any major financial decisions, such as selling your house, moving out of state, or making major purchases. If you have the financial flexibility to slow down, then take advantage of that flexibility. Take care of the affairs that need to be resolved right away, and otherwise, give yourself time to grieve and rebuild your life. You can always update your estate plan again a year or two down the road if your priorities change.
Again, you don't have to go through this process on your own. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney from The Law Firm of Brown & Jensen can give you time and room to focus on healing while we take care of the paperwork. If you need to update your estate plan after a loss, give us a call or contact us online today.