What Are Estate Planning Tips for Widows and Widowers?

estate plan

Losing a spouse at any point in your life is earth shattering. Navigating this emotional toll can leave some people feeling lost. However, there are many items you need to tend to after losing a spouse. One of the last items on your mind, but also one of the most important, is your own estate plan. You and your spouse may have set up an estate plan together. Now that they are gone, you might want to rethink your plan and take proactive steps.

Grieve First

You cannot do anything productive until you grieve. This is one of the most difficult experiences that you can face in life, and it is important to take time to mourn. You need the support of close family and friends in the days, weeks, months, and even years after losing a spouse. Above all, take care of yourself first.

Once you are able, then it is time to start planning. When you have a good idea of what life has in store for you in this next chapter, you and your lawyer can be better informed about what actions you need to take to achieve your goals.

Compile Your Financial Information

Gather all of your financial information in one spot. Whether you put it into a spreadsheet manually or you use an online resource to compile all of your financial accounts, make sure you have the following information:

  • Bank account balances.
  • Retirement account balances.
  • Other investment account balances.
  • Life insurance information.
  • Credit card debt.
  • Mortgage.
  • Car loan.
  • Other assets and liabilities.

You need to gather a complete picture of your financial situation. This helps lay out the foundation of your plan.

Review Your Situation

You can do this alone once you have compiled all of your financial information. If you are retired, this might look different from if you are working, even part time. You are looking for a complete picture of where you stand and where you are going. If you are retired, you may not have substantial income, so most of your transactions will be debits. That is fine as long as you have properly planned.

You also want to look at the assets your spouse may have had. These might include pension survivor benefits, Social Security survivor benefits, and annuity benefits.

Also, make sure to account for any debts. Mortgage, credit cards, car loans, anything that you owe a monthly payment on that will cut into the amount of money you have to spend on yourself and leisure activities. Do not forget to include your fixed expenses. 

Make Decisions

Now that you have a complete picture of your financial situation, you need to review your plan and figure out how you will meet your obligations and your goals. After your spouse dies, you may have become the sole owner of many assets. Your spouse may have had a vehicle with a car loan, but it is an extra vehicle you do not need. Selling the car could put a little cash in your pocket and help you eliminate that monthly expense. While there might be some emotional attachment to the vehicle, it could free up some cash for you.

In some cases, the loss of a spouse means you may need to go back to work if you were already retired. When a couple puts off estate planning too long, it can have negative consequences. While unintentional, you may need to consider returning to work to get some income and help you meet your goals.

If your spouse left you survivor benefits, you may be in a much better situation. You should not squander those benefits, however. You may need them to help you reach your retirement goals.

Revise or Create Your Estate Plan

The last but most important step is to put all of this into your estate plan. If you and your spouse did not create an estate plan, you might be dealing with a overwhelming situation. You should partner with a trusted lawyer who can help you.

If you and your spouse did have an estate plan together, that is great. However, now that they have passed, you should review your own plan. Especially for people of high net worth, reviewing your estate plan on a regular basis is crucial to ensuring your plan still meets your needs. Many people mistakenly view estate planning as something to make it easier for their heirs when they are gone. However, a good estate plan will help you during your life just as much as it will help your heirs when you are gone.

As part of your estate planning process, you should also review your retirement and bank accounts. Make sure that you have the correct beneficiary designations. You probably had your spouse listed on those accounts. The same is true for your life insurance policies. Make sure you change those beneficiary designations to someone else. 

Warren Wills, Trusts, and Estates Lawyers at Herold Law Will Help You Plan for the Future After Losing a Spouse

Becoming a widow or widower can be one of the most challenging times of your life. During this time, finding a lawyer who can guide you is crucial. Speak with one of our Warren wills, trusts, and estates lawyers at Herold Law to get the legal guidance you deserve. Call us at 908-647-1022 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation today. Located in Warren, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients throughout the surrounding areas, including Plainfield.