The loss of a spouse is one of the most painful experiences you will likely ever go through. If you are going through the grieving period that follows the loss of a spouse, the last thing you may wish to think about right now is updating your estate plan. Failing to do so, however, could lead to some unintended consequences. With that in mind, the Los Angeles estate planning lawyers at the Collins Law Firm explain the top five documents to update after the loss of a spouse.
- Your Last Will and Testament – along with removing your spouse as a beneficiary under the provisions of your Will, you may also need to remove him/her as the Executor of your estate and appoint someone new to the position. Your current Will should include language that accounts for the possibility of a beneficiary predeceasing you; however, knowing that you will be the last spouse to die may change how you want your estate distributed. Your spouse probably left you significant assets which changes the make-up of your estate assets. Your Will may also already have language appointing someone else as your Executor in the event that your spouse cannot serve; however, you now need to decide if that successor remains your first choice and, if so, who should be your replacement successor.
- Trust agreement – a trust is a very popular addition to the average estate plan. If your plan includes a trust, and you appointed your spouse to be the Trustee of the trust, you may need to amend the trust agreement to appoint a new Trustee. Again, your trust agreement should anticipate the possibility of the need for a successor Trustee; however, it still warrants a review. More importantly, the purpose of the trust should be reviewed in light of your spouse’s death. Assets may need to be added to the trust. Terms may need to be updated. You may even find that the need for the trust no longer exists.
- Life insurance — your spouse is also likely the primary beneficiary of your life insurance policies. Start by reviewing the continuing need for the insurance given the recent passing of your spouse. If you decide to retain the insurance, review and update beneficiaries.
- Advanced directive – if you have an advance directive in place you probably named your spouse as your Agent, giving him/her the legal authority to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to make them at some point. This is not a document that you want to terminate; however, you will need to spend some time deciding who you wish to appoint as your Agent now that your spouse is gone.
- Incapacity plan – if you do not already have a comprehensive incapacity plan in place, it is crucial that you create one in light of your spouse’s death. While your spouse was alive, the law would generally have deferred to him/her to make decisions and/or exert control over your assets in the event that you could not because of your incapacity. Now, however, it is considerably less certain who would have the legal right to step in and make decisions and/or control your assets. That, in turn, increases the likelihood of a contentious court battle between adult children or other family members if you ever do become incapacitated. The best way to prevent this from happening while simultaneously ensuring that your wishes will be honored is to incorporate a comprehensive incapacity plan into your overall estate plan.
Contact Collins Law Group
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions about which documents need to be updated after the death of a spouse in California, contact an experienced Los Angeles estate planning lawyer. Contact the Collins Law Group by calling (310) 677-9787 to register for one of our FREE estate planning workshops.