Estate Planning For Widows/Widowers

June 17, 2022

Estate Planning For Widows/Widowers

Losing a spouse is one of the most difficult things a person can go through. In addition to the difficult emotions surrounding the loss, widows and widowers may be tasked with several legal and financial responsibilities during this time of grief. After immediate needs are addressed, the surviving spouse may need to create a new plan to safeguard their assets and communicate their wishes. The experienced estate planning attorneys at Johnson Law Group can provide estate planning for recent widows/widowers that addresses their new reality. Consider visiting with our compassionate attorneys today to learn more today at: Phone (720) 452-2540 or Text-to-Chat (720) 868-5868.

Minimize Estate Taxes

For high-wealth estates, it is important to quickly claim the full amount of tax exemption. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, the federal estate tax exemption is $12.06 million in 2022 for each individual For married couples, this amount is doubled. Due to a concept known as the “portability provision,” the surviving spouse can use the unused portion of the deceased spouse’s exemption. However, the surviving spouse must reserve this exemption amount by filing a federal estate tax return (IRS Form 706) after the first spouse’s death even if they do not owe any estate tax at that time. This return must be filed within nine months of the death. This short timeline is why it is important to have the help of an experienced estate planning lawyer who can assist with the probate process.

Locate Assets

For many couples, one spouse takes the lead in managing finances. If the spouse who normally handled the finances has passed, the surviving spouse may have to try to track down assets and make a master list of them. These assets might include:

  • Bank accounts
  • Brokerage accounts
  • Retirement plans
  • Real estate holdings
  • Insurance policies
  • Safe deposit boxes
  • Digital assets
  • Personal property

File Insurance Claim

The surviving spouse will likely need any life insurance and other insurance proceeds they are entitled to. Filing an insurance claim promptly and in accordance with the requirements of the insurance company can help ensure the surviving spouse has the financial protection their spouse granted them by naming them a beneficiary to the policy.

Apply for Benefits

A surviving spouse may qualify for Social Security survivor benefits. They can contact the Social Security Administration to find out if they are entitled to these benefits. There may also be other benefits that the widow or widower may be eligible for, such as Veteran’s Administration benefits, employment-related benefits, or pensions. An inquiry should be made with each applicable agency.

Change Title to Jointly Owned Property

If the spouses owned property together as joint tenants or tenants by the entirety, the surviving spouse will need to change the title document to show they own the property alone now. This will make it easier to manage the property and to wrap up the estate more efficiently. Various type of property can be owned jointly, including real estate, vehicles, bank accounts, and brokerage accounts.

Get Help with Everyday Finances

If a surviving spouse did not take on the role of financial manager in the household, they may need help getting their everyday finances together. This may include reevaluating their current situation, creating a new budget, and changing regular spending habits. A financial advisor may be able to help with these tasks.

Update Beneficiaries

Many spouses name each other as beneficiaries on life insurance policies, checking accounts, retirement accounts, and other types of policies and benefits. After a spouse passes, the surviving spouse may need to adjust their beneficiary designations on these accounts. The person named on the beneficiary designation form controls, not what is stated in the will.

Update Estate Planning Documents

The widow or widower may also need to update their estate planning documents if they named their spouse as a beneficiary or in a fiduciary role, such as a personal representative or trustee. The recent death may inspire them to evaluate their own plans for leaving property at their death or managing property if they become incapacitated. Wills, trusts, and other estate planning documents may need to be updated.

Create New Estate Planning Documents

It may also be necessary to create new estate planning documents if the widow or widower realizes their spouse’s needs were not properly respected or communicated. Johnson Law Group creates customized estate planning documents for individuals, including financial and health care power of attorney documents. These documents allow someone (called the principal) to designate someone else (called an agent) to make decisions regarding their finances or health care, respectively. These documents can come in handy if the principal becomes incapacitated and is not able to manage these things for themselves. Our estate planning lawyers can also create a living will that allows you to set out your health care wishes.

Organize Important Documents

Now is also the time to organize important documents to carry out the administration of the estate of the deceased spouse and to plan for the future. Locate and organize the following important documents:

  • Will, trust, power of attorney, and other estate planning documents
  • Pre-paid funeral arrangement documents
  • Statements for checking, savings, brokerage, and investment accounts
  • Retirement plan documents and beneficiary designation documents
  • Life insurance policy coverage and beneficiary designation documents
  • Government benefit statements and paperwork
  • Tax returns
  • Credit card statements
  • Mortgage documents
  • Deeds, titles, and other ownership documents
  • Certified death certificate
  • Inventory of all investment accounts and digital assets
  • Policies for all insurance coverage, including long-term care, disability, medical, homeowners, auto, and umbrella
  • Recurring and occasional bills

Contact an Experienced and Compassionate Estate Planning Lawyer

Estate planning for widows/widowers addresses immediate needs following the recent passing of a spouse. It also addresses the long-term needs of the surviving spouse. The estate planning lawyers at Johnson Law Group can answer your questions and create an estate plan for widows and widowers. They can also help with settling your spouse’s estate, transferring assets to your name, closing joint accounts, updating beneficiaries, and planning for your needs in the future. Consider contacting our legal team today at: Phone (720) 452-2540 or Text-to-Chat (720) 868-5868.

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Written by Family Law Attorney Myles S. Johnson
Divorce doesn’t have to be dramatic. For the litigants, losing your spouse is significant enough. But you can choose the way it affects your daily life. The only guarantee I can give is that the feeling that you have right now will not be the feeling you end with. This is a season in your life, and it must be approached that way.
Our experience, dedication to Colorado families, and our success in each case we represent sets us apart from the competition. We are passionate about family and estate law. Our highly-qualified team will work tirelessly to achieve the best possible results in your case.


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