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An Estate Lawyers Advice on A Spouses Death

A spouse dying suddenly without warning is a horribly traumatic thing. A travesty like this is made exponentially more difficult if your spouse did not finish his estate plan or had none at all. On top of the death of the person closest to you, now you also have to survive a dragging financial and legal nightmare.

Estate planning lawyers all have similar stories on the matter. In this article, we’ll discuss what happened with real life couple Jonas and Amy.

Jonas and Amy have been together for 3 decades and had reached a point in their relationship where they were openly discussing estate planning. They even got to the point where they found a lawyer they could trust and even prepared draft documents. Though they were constantly nudged to finish their paperwork by their estate planning attorney, they never found the time to finalize it and left several matters in their estate planning unresolved.

Unfortunately, Jonas had an unexpected heart attack and had passed away.It happened quickly and had devastating effects on his family members; especially on his wife Amy. After Amy had enough time to recover, she began wondering about how to live. She was under the assumption that everything in Jonas’ name would naturally pass on to her and she could proceed with her life without needing to worry about her investments, her real estate property, and bank accounts. This, however, was not the case.

Majority of their property was community, her estate attorney explained that this means they could be placed in her name without probate but she’d need to complete a lot of legal paperwork and file a spousal property petition in court. This had cost Amy $3,000.

One of Jonas’ properties was inherited from his parents which made it separate property. Amy had found out that in her state, separate property does not go to the surviving spouse. Jonas had intended for this property to go to Amy and then pass on to their children upon her death but since he died without leaving a will, it was up to the state to determine how the separate property would be divided.

The property was split 3 ways equally between Amy and her two children. Today, Amy and her kids have worked everything out and settled most loose ends. This, however, had taken her 2 years since Jonas’ death. Amy’s lawyer had filed for probate on the separate property which led to more legal forms to handle, more fees, and more time. Several widows and widowers are stuck in a situation like this for multiple years before seeing a resolution.

It was a difficult 2 years for Amy. She had incurred over $17,000 in expenses. Majority of the amount was based on the value of the probate estate determined by state law. Leaving her estate planning unfinished had cost Amy 2 years of her life -- 2 years spent worrying over legal paperwork and having Jonas’ estate passed on differently from the way he intended.

What can you take out of this short account of Amy’s experience? Take the time to sit down with your spouse and really talk through both of your intentions, doubts, and ideas. Get an estate planning lawyer you can both trust and prepare a will and living trust. Sign them and place the paperwork in a safe place.

A Probate Lawyers Advice On Elderly Widows

Widow Loses Husband, Left with estate planning & probate Nightmare

A husband dies and leaves behind an elderly widow. The husband had always taken care of all the bills, managed all the accounts, and took care of their retirement plan. The husband was a careful man who never placed his all eggs in one basket. He had several accounts in his name and when he died, his wife had no way of knowing how many accounts he had, where they were, and how to manage her finances.

Through the help of her family and friends, she had managed to track down all of her money and learn how to take care of her finances. One of her biggest problems at the time was that all her husband’s accounts were in his name. She had to file for probate for each account before they could be touched; a legal and financial nightmare that took year’s to resolve.

Sadly, stories like these are common. On a lighter note, they are easy to avoid so long as you take some time to discuss matters with your spouse and prepare the paperwork with an estate planning lawyer. First off, here’s what you should take away from that story:

  • Both spouses must be involved in financial matters

One spouse taking care of all the finances is not helping either of them. Both husband and wife should know exactly how to manage their money.

  • Make it easy for your family

Everybody should keep a type of ledger with details of all their assets, where they are, what they are, how much their worth, and a short description of your intentions for them. Keep all the details in a secure location and make sure your family members know about it.

This makes it easy for surviving family members in the event of your death. Once you’ve done this, it will be a big weight off your mind knowing that should some unseen accident happen, your family will still be capable of managing all the finances.

  • Joint tenants

If you have assets like property, bank accounts, cars, safety deposit boxes, investments, etc., these should never be under your name only. Place them under your spouse’s name too. Joint tenancy is an ideal setup for spouses but people who aren’t married should not own property as joint tenants. Joint tenancy has the potential to cause massive problems so it isn’t advised for people who aren’t married to seek them. If you are not sure if joint tenancy is right for you it may be time to speak to a will or probate attorney in your city.

  • Finish your estate planning

In an ideal scenario, all assets are held by a living revocable trust. Once you have assets put in the name of your living trust, then these assets will not need to go through probate when you die. This will save all your heirs from massive headaches and small fortunes in legal bills.

A trustee has full control of the assets upon your death. In most cases, your spouse is the first trustee and you can name somebody else to succeed after her. It doesn’t take too much time to set everything up and once its done, you can tick that off your bucket list and rest easy knowing your assets are in good hands.

 NYC Estate Law Experience Moves To Philly

Our attorney is a graduate of St John's University School of Law in Queens, NY. She received here Juris doctor in 2010. Our attorney gained her initial experience in the highly competitive law glorified region of NYC. Now she brings her Big Apple experience to the main line region of PA.