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Estate planning and the "widowhood effect"

People in Georgia may find that the deaths of George and Barbara Bush prompt them to think about their own estate plans. Even though the Bushes were quite wealthy, lessons from their example could be useful to people of more modest means planning the future of their assets as well as those who want to manage the disbursement of significant estates. It is important to note that the Bushes died within eight months of one another. For long-time, older married couples, it is far from uncommon for the passing of one spouse to be followed shortly thereafter by the other. This phenomenon is even referred to as the "widowhood effect."

While this situation may be fairly common, it can also cause some concerning issues that people may want to account for when making an estate plan. In some cases, the administration of one estate may not be complete when the other spouse passes away. If the majority of the first spouse's estate was left to the other, there could be some confusion about which will would guide the disbursement of all of the remaining assets, especially if there were significant differences. This can also point to an important reason for couples to coordinate closely when planning.

In some cases, couples may die so closely together that the estates are handled together rather than separately. However, most cases are more like those of the Bushes, in which a period of months passes between the two spouses' deaths.

People thinking about how their assets will be handled in the future might consult with an estate planning attorney. A lawyer may be able to help clients develop an estate plan with provisions that reflect these and other contingencies and can draft key estate documents like wills, trusts and powers of attorney to reflect their clients' wishes.

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