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Estate Planning for Surviving Spouses

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

After losing a spouse or longtime partner, it’s difficult to look past your grief. However, it’s crucial to understand the critical and timely decisions you must make regarding your finances and personal estate plan.


Estate planning is an ongoing process, as it accounts for changes in marriages, deaths, divorces, and births of children and grandchildren. Assuming your spouse left an updated estate plan before their passing can have disastrous consequences.


The first thing to do is review both the last will and testaments of the trust. It is not uncommon to discover assets you are unaware of, allowing for planning opportunities to transfer tax-free wealth. With the loss of a spouse’s income, uncovering assets may also help secure a widow or widower’s finances. You may also discover incomplete beneficiary designations, incorrect titling of assets, or an overlooked grandchild who is new to the family.


After a spouse passes, much of the attention of legal services focuses on managing their

widow thinking of spouse

estate rather than the legal needs of the surviving spouse. There are circumstances when wills and trust configurations permit a surviving spouse a “second look” to see if the decedent’s estate plan is still a proper fit. Existing estate plan documents in the surviving spouse’s name require review to change beneficiaries or representatives as necessary.


Aside from wills and trusts, review the related incapacity documents such as:

  • Durable Powers of Attorney (DPOA): A durable power of attorney lets you name an individual to act on your behalf for financial matters. During your lifetime, this person is typically your spouse. As the surviving spouse, you must identify another trusted person to replace your spouse as power of attorney.

  • Medical Power of Attorney (Health Care Surrogate Designation): You’ll also have to select an individual as your new health care agent if your spouse has been your representative. If you become ill and cannot communicate your healthcare decisions, your medical POA can make medical decisions on your behalf. If you have an alternate designation on the health care proxy, review the choice to ensure the person is still appropriate. Or you may remove them and name a new health care agent.

Reviewing and making appropriate changes to your estate plan with guidance from your attorney will protect you as a widow or widower. It’s a challenge to review this during an emotional time, but you need to prepare yourself for the future.

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