The surviving spouse needs to make important decisions

For California couples who have been farsighted enough to establish an estate plan, there comes a well-deserved peace of mind that their assets will be handled well after their deaths. While no one escapes their own mortality, having properly executed legal documents in place necessary to handle the transition when the time comes is reassuring. However, estate planning is not a one-and-done proposition; major life changes necessitate reviewing and sometimes altering one's plan.

Experts recommend reviewing estate documents every two years or when a life-changing event occurs. The death of a spouse is such an event. Although shock and grief can be paralyzing, it is imperative for a surviving spouse to not only review the documents but to make appropriate changes as soon as possible.

Most spouses have identical provisions in their wills and trusts naming each other co-trustees and primary beneficiaries, for example, and typically designate each other for powers of attorney to act in the event of disability or incapacity. All these must be changed with the passing of the first spouse. It is also wise to review matters in addition to estate planning documents. Many couples have various retirement or brokerage accounts held in joint tenancy, and a new joint tenant must be named or a pay on death beneficiary designated.

Ensuring that the decedent's wishes are followed is an important aspect of estate planning. Following through with the changes that need to be made after the death of the first spouse ensures this continuity for the surviving spouse. A trust administration lawyer may explain the legal issues surrounding death and help craft a plan that is beneficial for all concerned.

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