Drawing up a will can be an emotionally taxing process. But it’s one that becomes especially difficult when a spouse is left to cope with the task after their partner passes away. Suddenly, what was once a joint decision made with a lifelong partner becomes a task a widow or widower must face alone. Cinda J. Collins, senior vice president and financial advisor at RBC Wealth Management, knows this all too well. Despite having two years to prepare for her husband Bob’s passing when he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, Collins found the financial and emotional implications of settling his estate after he was gone were often overwhelming.
A recent Forbes article, titled “The Widow's Guide To Estate Planning And Wealth Transfer,”offers some advice on how couples can approach estate planning together—and what a surviving spouse should do if their partner passes.
Make Sure You Have a Professionally Drafted Will. To be as prepared as possible in the event of a spouse’s passing, talk to an experienced estate attorney together as a couple to ensure all your affairs are in order. If a spouse passes away unexpectedly without planning, the surviving partner will have headaches.
Typically an estate attorney will give a couple an information packet outlining all the topics to consider and documents to bring to the initial meeting. Bring your life insurance policy and any net-worth statements that tell how different properties are titled.
Another important part of estate planning for couples with young children: think about guardianship before talking with your estate planning attorney. This will be more cost effective and make the meeting more meaningful.
Open Your Own Bank Account. A big surprise for widows is that joint accounts are frozen when a spouse passes away. A separate account in your own name can be used for immediate expenses. You can also put the couple’s joint account in a trust before the spouse passes with the proviso that, in the event of his death, the assets would transfer allowing quick access to the funds.
Lean on a Friend. The complexities of estate planning make it important to rely on a qualified estate planning attorney. Just as it’s critical to rely on an expert for legal support in the estate planning process, a bereaved spouse may also turn to a third-party expert, such as a grief counselor or clergy for emotional support. Also, a recently bereaved individual might find it helpful to bring a friend to any estate-related meetings. In a state of grieving, you can miss stuff. Bring someone along to take notes and remind you of things you need to do.