Married couples can share almost every aspect of their lives with each other. But even the closest couples may find it difficult to talk about matters related to death and their dying wishes. As uncomfortable as it might be to discuss subjects like burial arrangements and remarriage, they should be addressed as part of creating a comprehensive estate plan. Seemingly ordinary details, such as the location of important documents and contact information, should also be addressed.
Location of Important Documents
Married couples often commingle their finances. Some studies show that older couples are even more likely than younger ones to have joint accounts.
Even when couples do have joint accounts and assets, it is not uncommon for one spouse to handle all financial matters. When one spouse is the “money person” in the relationship, it can create issues in both life and death. To avoid unnecessary problems, couples should keep each other informed about the location of important documents such as the following:
- Estate planning documents
- Life insurance paperwork
- Loan documents
- Financial account information (e.g., savings, retirement, and investment accounts)
- Usernames, passwords, and other information for accessing digital accounts and assets
If spouses have separate assets, it is important that information is made available regarding those assets, where they are located and who is authorized to deal with them in case of incapacity and at death. If a spouse with separate assets has separate accompanying estate planning documents, it is important to let the other know to facilitate the estate administration process.
When a spouse passes away, the surviving spouse is likely to have a good idea of who should be contacted and in more or less what order. Outside of immediate family and friends, a spouse could be unsure about whom to get in touch with. Extended family, a religious leader, club members, professional contacts, and, if the deceased was still working, their employer may need to be contacted as well.
It should not be assumed that a husband or wife has access to these individuals’ phone numbers. Nowadays, most contact information may be stored in a personal device, rather than in a physical form. To ensure that this information is accessible, it can be listed in a separate document. In addition, each spouse can give the other login credentials to their phone, tablet, or other computer device.
Keeping a spouse apprised of relationship statuses, whom to get in touch with, and how to get in touch with them are small but important estate planning points.
Among the matters to deal with after someone’s passing are burial or cremation, casket or urn selection, and what type of memorial service to have, if any.
These decisions are not automatically left to a surviving spouse. In Michigan, a spouse would have priority to be the decision maker and if the spouse were not available, then next of kin. However, it important that authority be given to the proper person, whether based on preference, availability, or ability to act in a calm and reasonable manner under conditions that could be stressful. Michigan allows that a Funeral Representative Designation can be made to clarify who should act with any matters involving the funeral home, funeral arrangements, burial or cremation. As unpleasant as it can be to discuss these matters, doing so can offer the departed—and the surviving spouse—peace of mind that these most personal of decisions are honored.
Couples may not be on the same page about the issue of a surviving spouse remarrying. Depending on their age, history, and beliefs, some people may have strong feelings about remarriage. Interestingly, studies have shown that the rate of remarriage is significantly lower after the death of a spouse than after divorce.
Couples that have separate finances are free to do with their share what they want. One spouse could be okay with remarriage and do nothing, while the other is against remarriage and sets up a trust to protect their accounts and property. Couples with joint assets may still decide together the ability of a surviving spouse to access and enjoy assets in case of remarriage.
A spouse who predeceases their partner may be okay with remarriage but not want the new spouse to have access to their money. Estate planning can help prevent this outcome. The use of a qualified terminable interest property (QTIP) trust, for example, can provide for a surviving spouse while protecting children’s inheritance from the surviving spouse’s new spouse.
If there are no children involved, or if one spouse simply trusts the other to do whatever they want with the money even if it benefits the new spouse, special estate plan provisions might not be necessary.
Regardless, remarriage is a topic worth discussing.
Show Love with a Thorough Estate Plan
Our passing can create complications for those we leave behind. Not having an estate plan takes the control over your remaining assets out of your family’s hands and gives it to the state. But an incomplete plan can cause problems too.
Small estate planning gaps can raise big questions that leave a person’s legacy in doubt. It is never too late to revisit and update an estate plan while you are alive. But unresolved estate issues taken to the grave could come back to haunt your loved ones.
Estate planning is a gift to your spouse and is the best way to take care of them when you are no longer around. To show them love, contact our office and schedule an appointment to review your existing plan or to begin the process of creating a plan.