The death of a spouse is devastating, but inevitable. Without proper estate planning, legal and financial problems can aggravate grief and problems. In addition to drafting documents, such as wills, spouses should take other steps.
Both spouses should be involved in financial decisions and planning. If the deceased spouse handled all the couple's financial affairs, the surviving spouse may be unable to deal with the most routine matters, which may even include paying for their spouse's funeral.
There should be one or more joint bank accounts with adequate funds to pay for emergency expenses and the funeral. The surviving spouse should know the financial institutions holding the accounts, how much is kept in the accounts and the location of checkbooks. Funeral homes will usually agree to proceed with plans if a will is presented identifying the person making the plans as the beneficiary.
In addition to a will, each couple should also have a durable power of attorney, which designates one or more individuals to pay bills, handle legal affairs, deal with insurance and tax matters and make other financial decisions, if they become incapacitated.
Couples may also need a medical advance directive that designates one or more individuals to make medical decisions if the person is unable to make these decisions. These documents also include a living will that identifies a person's intentions on life support, if they are terminally ill, contain medical privacy waivers to help a spouse or other agent deal with health care providers and contain specific instructions on end-of-life care.
Both spouses should also keep copies of these estate documents. These should be kept near their financial asset file containing copies of recent statements and passwords and access codes for digital accounts. The primary executor or trustee should also know the location of these documents.
Spouses also need to periodically review their wills, powers of attorneys and medical directives. They may also need to update the beneficiary designations and joint account designations to assure that the estate plan does not face obstacles and conflict with wills and trusts. This planning should occur as soon as possible and while the spouses are not facing health problems to provide for more options.