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Estate planning issues for the recently widowed

It is common for wives to live longer than their husbands. According to a CNN report, the difference now averages five years, with men living to 76.1 years and women living to 81.1 years. So a wife will likely live for a time without their husband.

It also is worth noting that an estimated 85% of baby boomer women claim they lack the financial planning skills to make the right decisions, and 56% leave all financial decisions to their husbands when he was alive.

Nevertheless, important financial decisions will need to be made after a husband’s passing. This challenge comes as life without a spouse becomes the new norm. Adding to the pressure, many of these decisions will likely have an impact for years to come.

Important issues to address

There are countless decisions to make, but common concerns include:

Focus on the most pressing matters: There are many decisions to make but start with funeral arrangements and other personal issues that need immediate attention.

Probate guidance: An attorney can guide spouses and families through the probate process or other estate matters, either as part of the husband’s estate plan or hired after his death.

Work with a trusted advisor: It is often helpful to work with the husband’s financial advisor and estate law attorney to determine what changes and what can stay the same, at least in the short term.

Avoid rash decisions: It is tempting to tackle the financial issues and move on, but a slower, more patient approach leads to better decisions.

Social Security Benefits: The surviving spouse gains access to the higher earning spouse’s Social Security benefits, but it may make more sense to wait and let those benefits continue to grow for a few more years.

Collect other benefits: There may be a death benefit related to an annuity, veterans’ benefits and benefits from the late spouse’s employer.

Address the retirement accounts: The spouse must stick with the arrangement if there is already a plan paying out that is structured to minimize tax obligations.

Revisiting issues as time passes

When the surviving spouse is ready, she can then prepare or amend her estate plan for passing assets on to the children or other beneficiaries. An attorney with a background in estate planning can provide a range of services, whether it is drafting a will, handling probate or handling unforeseen matters that arise.

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Peter J. Snyder, P.A.

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