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SpouseWhen a beloved spouse dies, taking care of their “estate” is probably the last thing on your mind.  Ultimately, when the final affairs are taken care of, you need to talk with an estate planning attorney an not procrastinate.  Waiting can create some negative implications for you and your remaining family.  While it does indeed take time to notify friends and family, arrange and conduct a funeral, and grieve, there comes a time when the grieving process has to be balanced with following laws and taking care of the estate.

It can be dangerous to take care of your spouse’s estate alone

Again, dealing with legal paperwork is often that a back of someone’s mind.  However, making mistakes with estate or tax matters is something that a surviving spouse wants to avoid at all costs.  Little mistakes, even innocent ones, can cause serious negative consequences down the road.

Incorrectly handling a deceased spouses’ estate can create large issues for the surviving spouse in the following ways:

  • Not following the law — even accidentally — can sometimes look like criminal misbehavior.
  • If you do not correctly fulfill your responsibilities as Personal Representative, you can be risking your own assets.

Estate planning attorneys remove the guesswork for you

The legal world is difficult and complicated to navigate.  Being emotionally compromised makes that endeavor even harder.  That is why it is so important to rely on your estate planning attorney, who is not grieving the loss of a spouse and has the knowledge and experience to navigate that legal world.  Work with your attorney, but also let your attorney take the initiative to do the essentials.

The following are some of the basics that your attorney can help you address and those time-sensitive considerations that can impact you:

1. Tying up licenses, addresses, and accounts

This can be as easy as letting to post office know or addressing e-mail, and can be as complicated as IRS filings, social security, employee benefits, etc.  You may also have remaining debts that need a strategy on how to deal with them.  Some of these tasks do not require an attorney’s help, but some tasks do, and talking with your attorney beforehand can help you develop a strategy and know exactly what to do and how to do it.

2. Learning your exact role in your spouse’s estate plan 

To really know where everything goes, we need to review your spouse’s estate planning documents.  This will help you know your spouse’s wishes and your role according to those documents.  Your attorney will also help you identify whether you need to go into probate or other mechanisms to address your spouse’s estate.

3. Investigating the possibility of a late election under Revenue Procedure 2017-34

“Portability” means your ability to transfer your spouse’s unused estate tax exemption to yourself.  This can be a vital estate planning strategy for surviving spouses.  A new IRS regulation, Revenue Procedure 2017-34, allows a surviving spouse to make a late portability election.  This can save drastic amounts of taxes.  Normally, however, there is a deadline to file for portability, so you need to communicate with your estate planning attorney to make sure you do everything you need to do.

4. Beginning any necessary collaboration with other pertinent advisors

If your spouse worked with other financial professionals, it is important to bring them into the loop as well to make sure that everything is going smoothly and is coordinated.

Final Thoughts

A spouse’s passing is one of the most traumatic experiences we can have to go through.  However, you do not have to go through it alone.  Loved ones and trust advisors can help you grieve and come up with a game plan on what to do next.  Working with an estate planning attorney is a vital part of the process to help you navigate the difficult and uncertain financial and estate matters that you confront during this time.