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Transparency in estate planning can avoid probate conflicts

Statistics out of the Census Bureau indicate that about 800,000 Americans will lose their spouses this year. Widows and widowers make up 25 percent of the over-65 population totaling more than 14 million.

What happens to an estate after death? Most people have little idea and this can cause additional stress at an already difficult time. Planning for the details and organizing paperwork into one location can be a great relief. A recent New York Times article shares the story of a wife who lost her 57-year-old husband to cancer. Their advance planning ensured everything was in place, including a trust for a child from a previous marriage that avoided conflicts.

 

What are the assets?

A first step is to thoroughly understand what assets are available and how they can be accessed. How many life insurance policies do you own? Are the right people listed as beneficiaries? What pensions and retirement plans exist and how much is invested in these accounts?

The main principle in estate planning is to protect survivors and put them in a position to make decisions. This requires completing a number of documents that include powers of attorney, so that one spouse can make important medical care decisions as well as financial decisions. These forms are essential when the other spouse is incapacitated, which often happens all of a sudden.

Other documents include wills and trusts depending on the unique needs of a family.

Filing insurance policies, pension/retirement account information, marriage and birth certificates, social security statements and estate planning documents in one easy location ensures everything is easily accessible when needed. It may be wise to back up these documents electronically and store them in another location in the event of a fire or other natural disaster.

Changing times

In the last 20 years, gender roles have changed and it is increasingly common that the wife handles the family finances. But widows can still make a common mistake. They often make “imprudent gifts to adult children” after their husband’s death. Unfortunately, these gifts can leave a widow without adequate resources down the road.

Start the estate planning process with a candid conversation. Then schedule a time to meet with an attorney to put an estate plan down on paper to protect loved ones.

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