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Estate planning and surviving spouses

Some people in Georgia may have known couples who were married for a long time and died within days or weeks of one another. Sometimes called "broken-heart syndrome," this can actually cause problems for their estate plans if they have not prepared for the possibility.

A survivorship provision as part of an estate plan can help make the probate of both estates a more simplified process if both spouses die within a short period of time. However, in some cases, spouses might die relatively close in time but not close enough for a survivorship provision to be useful. This would have been the case for George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush since he died more than seven months after her death. For situations in which there is a greater time lag, there are other approaches that can be useful.

For example, a person might not necessarily need the assets passed from his or her deceased spouse. A qualified disclaimer allows the surviving spouse to decline an interest in the assets. It is also important to act quickly after the death of one spouse. If there is a retirement account, and the surviving spouse is the primary beneficiary, the account should be rolled over quickly. Another option is to make the children the primary beneficiaries.

Couples who are creating estate plans should keep in mind that it is not just older people who should think about how to design the plan in the event the spouses die in quick succession. For example, both people could die within a short time of one another in an accident. They may want to discuss this scenario with an attorney and how such an event would affect estate administration and probate. If they have minor children, they might also want to make sure their wills appoint a family member or friend as the guardian.

Source: Forbes, "Valuable Estate Lessons From The Passing Of George And Barbara Bush," Megan Gorman, December 3, 2018

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