Estate Planning & Terminal Illness
Planning for the death of a spouse is difficult and painful. It involves conversations that we don’t want to have. But whether you’re dealing with terminal illnesses or other life-threatening conditions, it’s important to get your affairs in order to ensure assets and family are protected.
Your spouse’s current prognosis, like a terminal illness, and whether he or she’s at home or in a hospital will determine whether updates can be made to your estate plan. If it has been some time since the two of you last updated your estate plan, you should review the planning with your elder law attorney or estate planning attorney to be certain that you understand it and to see if there are any changes that can and should be made. There are five issues on which to focus your attention:
See who’s named in your estate planning documents to serve as executor and trustee of your spouse’s estate. They will have important roles after your spouse dies. Be sure you are comfortable with the selected fiduciaries, and they’re still a good fit. If your spouse has been sick, you’ve likely reviewed his or her health care proxy and power of attorney. If not, see who’s named in those documents as well.
Determine the effect on your assets when your partner dies from a terminal illness. Get an updated list of all your assets and see if there are assets that are held jointly which will automatically pass to you on your spouse’s death or if there are assets in your spouse’s name alone with no transfer on death beneficiary provided. See if any assets have been transferred to a trust. These answers will determine how easily you can access the assets after your spouse’s passing.
Any assets that are currently in a trust or will pass into a trust at death will be controlled by the trust document. See who the beneficiaries are, how distributions are made and who will control the assets.
If there’s property solely in your spouse’s name with no transfer on death beneficiary, those assets will pass according to his or her will. Review the will to make sure you understand it and whether probate will be needed to settle the estate.
Beneficiary Designation Check
Make certain that beneficiaries of your retirement accounts and life insurance policies are current.
If changes need to be made after a terminal illness diagnosis, an experienced elder law or estate planning attorney can counsel you on how to best do this.