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Q: Why do new widows and widowers need to see an estate planning attorney?

If you are married, chances are you have already seen a New York or New Jersey estate planning attorney at some point and created a comprehensive estate plan. As the years went by, and circumstances changed, you might’ve even returned to modify the estate plan—or had plans to do so.

When should you consider modifying an estate plan?

Life events that can impact an estate plan include but are not limited to:

  • The birth or adoption of children or grandchildren,
  • Marriages and divorces,
  • Business ventures,
  • Significant changes in net worth,
  • Estrangement from children/family members,
  • Death or disability of a spouse or child.

Losing a spouse at any age is devastating and the steps the surviving spouse needs to take will differ depending on their age and particular circumstances. In general, unless there’s a reason otherwise, the survivor should avoid making hasty decisions. That said, there may be reasons to see an estate planning attorney and financial advisor sooner rather than later.

How can an estate planning attorney guide a new widow or widower?

Often in conjunction with your financial advisor, an estate attorney can review any existing estate planning documents to determine which changes, if any, are necessary as a result of the spouse’s death.

Survivors may need to take some or all of the following actions:

  • Access life insurance benefits and/or purchase or change the beneficiary on the survivor’s own policy
  • Address Social Security survivor benefits issues
  • Investigate status of pension or retirement benefits
  • Review financial accounts and change names and beneficiary designations as needed
  • Review all bills and debts including whether they are in the name of the deceased spouse, the surviving spouse, or both. Those solely in the deceased spouse’s name may become a debt of the estate if there is one to probate, or may be able to be written off and not paid if there are no assets passing through probate—but an estate administration attorney will need to determine how to proceed.

The next step will be for the surviving spouse to plan for their own future, consider Medicaid planning (depending on their age) and create a new estate plan that provides financial security for themselves and their loved ones as they enter a new phase of life.

If you would like to create an initial estate plan, modify an existing one, or have any other questions regarding estate planning or estate administration, the experts at Merlino & Gonzalez can help you. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

From our offices in Staten Island, New York and East Brunswick, New Jersey, we represent clients throughout both states in all aspects of estate planning and estate administration.