According to the Census Bureau, 14 million widows and widowers live in the U.S., or about a quarter of the population over 65. Every year, 800,000 Americans lose their spouses.
It’s reality. People die, and they leave behind loved ones in emotional turmoil. That doesn’t have to mean your loved ones have to suffer through financial turmoil during that difficult time. Taking time to create a solid estate plan and then keeping your estate organized can protect your loved ones from having to deal with hassles while in a fog of grief.
Are you familiar with all your assets and where they are located?
Before you begin your estate plan, according to the New York Times’ Retiring blog, you and your spouse both need a full, clear understanding of what you own and what you owe. How much is left on the mortgage? Do you have life insurance policies? Remember to check the beneficiaries. What pensions or retirement accounts do you have? Do you keep valuables in a safe deposit box?
Has your spouse been handling all of these issues? If so, you need to become familiar with your overall assets and debts and where all your accounts are held.
Once you have an inventory of your assets and debts, talk to an estate planning attorney to ensure they are all considered in our estate plan. This is a good time to talk about your situation, goals and values. If you have any special situations, such as children from a previous relationship, your estate plan can ensure each loved one receives what you intend.
What documents should your estate plan contain?
Most people will want a legal will, and trusts can be of great benefit. To ensure a smooth transition, however, it’s also important to have a durable power of attorney for finances and a living will and/or healthcare power of attorney. The power of attorney for finances allows a designated person to pay your bills and make other financial decisions on your behalf. A living will and healthcare power of attorney can specify what end-of-life care you prefer or designate a person to make those decisions for you if you become unable to do so.
The size and contents of your estate plan will depend on both the size and the complexity of your estate. Remember, the first step in estate planning is setting up the time to get it done.