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New Jersey spouses may find comfort in an estate plan

Whether they are newlyweds or celebrating decades of marriage, spouses naturally do not want to think about what would happen if their partner died. It is not a pleasant scenario.

In addition to the grief of loss, there are financial implications that come to the forefront when someone dies. However, through estate planning, couples can at least address some of the financial issues associated with the death of a spouse.

First, each spouse should make sure they are aware of the totality of their marital assets and separate property. For example, do they own life insurance policies, and if so, who are the beneficiaries? Assets also include pensions and other types of retirement accounts, as well as bank accounts and investments.

Make an accounting of monthly bills. Knowing where one's finances will stand when one spouse or the other dies is important. Too often, only one spouse or the other handles the family finances, leaving their partner in the dark.

Important documents, such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, titles to assets such as automobiles and real estate, wills, trusts and an inventory of assets should also be kept in a secure location. Such locations include a safe deposit box that is accessible to both spouses.

In addition, each spouse should have his or her own durable power of attorney for health care and his or her own durable power of attorney for finances. An attorney can be consulted for help in drafting these documents. This allows each spouse to make health care and financial decisions on behalf of their partner, if their partner can no longer do so on his or her own.

The Census Bureau reports that each year, over 800,000 people across the United States will suffer the loss of their partner, and the majority of these surviving spouses are women. On average a married woman will live for 14 years as a widow. Therefore, it is important that couples create an estate plan early. An attorney can assist couples on their estate-planning journey, so they can draft sound documents that will help them be prepared for the eventuality that one of them will die before the other.

Source: The New York Times, "Death Is Inevitable. Financial Turmoil Afterward Isn't," John F. Wasik, Jan. 13, 2017

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