Surviving spouses often require additional estate planning

When a spouse dies in North Carolina, most of the focus goes to the estate planning that was accomplished by the recently deceased. This, of course, is appropriate. However, the surviving spouse should also complete an in-depth analysis regarding the efficacy of their estate planning in light of the changed circumstances. This chore is often neglected to the detriment of all concerned.

After the death of a married estate owner, the assets of the surviving partner usually change to some degree. Property or funds may be inherited, or property that was jointly owned becomes solely owned. Couples often do estate planning together and then leave things alone. Particularly in the case of combined families, decisions regarding inheritances may change in the wake of a partner’s death. For example, when a surviving spouse becomes the sole heir of an estate, wills must reflect the wishes if the deceased’s children should be future heirs. If all assets pass to the next of kin, stepchildren may be left out in the cold contrary to the original intent of the parties.

There are other unique situations that may be addressed in estate planning. One is the possibility of disclaiming part of an inheritance. This can be a strategic tool designed to give a spouse or other heir flexibility regarding estate assets. For example, if a child is struggling financially, an heir may have the option of taking a reduced share and allowing more to pass to the struggling child with certain estate tax benefits that are superior to potential gift taxes. Other issues that should be addressed in the aftermath of a spousal death are durable powers of attorney and health care proxies. These often just list the other spouse even after they pass away.

Estate planning strategies are as varied and unique as the individuals requiring them. Consulting a qualified lawyer about trusts and other instruments can provide invaluable peace of mind for someone concerned with end-of-life planning.