Whenever a loved one passes, especially one that was depended on, it is often difficult for one to even consider the next steps, yet alone know what those steps are.
To start, there will be two professionals you’ll want to seek professional advice from. One is a Trust and Estates Attorney who can help review your spouse’s estate and determine the next steps as it relates to the distribution of their assets. The other will be with a financial planner to help analyze your finances and come up with a financial game-plan for the future.
When meeting with the attorney, you will want to bring your spouse’s death certificate, any estate planning documents you and your spouse executed during your lifetimes, and copies of all financial statements. Any assets in your spouse’s sole name, with no beneficiary, must go through a court process for the assets to be distributed. If your spouse died with a last will and testament, the will must go through a probate proceeding and assets will be distributed pursuant to the terms of the will. If there is no will, your spouse’s assets will go through an administration proceeding and pass to those who are to inherit under the laws of intestacy. For example, if you are your spouse’s sole next of kin, you will inherit 100% of the estate. If your spouse has children, whether mutual or from another relationship, you will inherit the first $50,000, along with one-half of the remaining estate. The other one-half will be distributed equally amongst your spouse’s children. Any assets that have a joint owner or beneficiary will pass to those parties without court involvement. If assets are held in trust, the trust also avoids the courts and assets must be distributed pursuant to the terms of the trust.
Once the estate is settled, taxes paid and assets distributed, it is important to review your own estate plan. This includes creating or updating your power of attorney, health care directives, and will and/or trust. The attorney will evaluate your assets, the inheritance from your spouse, any tax concerns, and your long terms goals to generate a plan that works best for you. For example, if there’s a concern about long-term care planning and preserving assets for your life and your desired beneficiaries, the attorney will likely advise creating an asset protection trust, assuming it is your best available option based on your circumstances.
If your spouse was the primary bread winner, it also a good idea to meet with a financial planner who can review your assets and income, alongside your expected yearly expenses, and create a strategy to help meet your immediate and long-term financial objectives.
When you feel ready, you should contact these professionals to help alleviate some of the burdens you are currently facing and ensure that your needs are being met and that you are properly planning for your future.