4 THINGS YOUR SPOUSE SHOULD KNOW BEFORE YOU DIE
Married couples share many aspects of their lives with each other. But when it comes to death, even the closest couples can become tight-lipped. We get it, it's uncomfortable to talk about. But it's important to address these topics to avoid further heartbreak down the road. Seemingly mundane details, such as the locations of passwords and other important documents, should also be addressed.
For the surviving spouse, death can leave many unanswered questions. Drafting a comprehensive estate plan in advance can ease some of the burden down the line.
Here are four things spouses should address before they die:
1. The location of important documents
2. Contact information for important people in their lives
3. Burial arrangements
4. Thoughts on remarriage
Location of Important Documents
Traditional couples tend to commingle their finances. Among baby boomers, having only joint accounts is the norm. Millennial and Gen Z couples, however, are more likely to keep their money separate.
When couples do have joint accounts and property, it's not uncommon for one spouse to handle the finances. Less than one in four couples report that both spouses have an equal role in managing household finances.
When one spouse is the “money person” in the relationship, it can create issues in both life and death. To avoid unnecessary stress, couples should ensure that they're on the same page. For day-to-day finances, this can mean regular check-ins about charges and budgeting. With regard to estate planning, couples should keep each other informed about the location of important documents such as the following:
Will and trust documents
Power of attorney documents and advance directives
Life insurance paperwork
Financial account information (e.g., savings, retirement, and investment accounts)
Usernames, passwords, and other information for accessing digital accounts and assets
Keeping finances secret—and separate—although legal under Ohio law, can still raise estate planning issues. A spouse with separate accounts and property might have separate accompanying estate planning documents. If so, the other spouse should be in the know about them in the event of estate administration.
Contact Information for Family, Friends, Beneficiaries, Executors, Trustees, Attorneys, and/or Financial Advisors
A spouse will often be the first person to find out about their partner’s passing. After that, there may be an established priority of whom to contact next.
The surviving spouse is likely to have a good idea of who should be contacted and in more or less what order. It may not be particularly important whether an older sibling is informed before or after a younger sibling or vice versa.
Yet it shouldn't be assumed that a husband or wife has access to these individuals’ phone numbers. Nowadays, most contact information is stored in a personal device, not a physical book. To ensure that this information is accessible, it can be listed in a separate document, or each spouse can give the other their phone’s login credentials.
Outside of immediate family and friends, a spouse could be unsure about whom to get in touch with. Extended family, a religious leader, professional contacts, and employers may need to be contacted as well. Some people might be named in the will and require inheritance notifications.
Keeping a spouse in the know about whom to get in touch with, and how to get in touch with them, about end-of-life wishes are small but important estate planning points.
Following a person’s burial preferences is a way to ensure that they receive an appropriate send-off.
More Americans are choosing to be cremated instead of having a traditional burial. Whichever someone chooses, there are many options to incorporate personal touches.
If cremated, a person may wish to have their ashes scattered in a favorite place. In the case of a burial, they may opt not to have an open casket. There are also natural burials (being buried without a casket) and funeral services without a body present. About 20,000 people donate their bodies to science each year.
In some states, the surviving spouse has the primary authority to make these decisions, absent specific instructions by the deceased. As unpleasant as it can be to discuss burial, cremation, or donation, doing so can offer the departed—and the surviving spouse—peace of mind that personal decisions are honored.
Thoughts on Remarriage
Wedding vows famously contain the phrase “’til death do us part.” But what about after death? Are couples still obligated to obey their promise of fidelity?
Whether approaching this question from a religious or a secular perspective, it is generally accepted that a widowed spouse is not doing wrong by remarrying. Depending on their age, history, and beliefs, though, some people may have strong feelings about remarriage.
A spouse who predeceases their partner may be okay with remarriage but may 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 an 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, special estate plan provisions might not be necessary.
Regardless, remarriage is a topic worth discussing. Couples may not be on the same page about remarrying. Nor do they have to be. Couples that have separate finances are free to do with their share what they want.
Show Love with a Thorough Estate Plan
An optimist would argue that there are no worries after death. Once we depart this plane of existence, all our worldly cares die with us.
But from a practical perspective, our passing can create complications for those we leave behind. Not having an estate plan takes the control over your accounts and property out of your family’s hands and gives it to the state. 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're 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 the best way to take care of them when you are no longer around. If you would like one of our attorneys to facilitate this discussion, call our office at 614.389.9711 to schedule an appointment.
Want to learn more about how your estate planning documents work together to protect your legacy? Download our Consumer's Guide to Estate Planning in Ohio here.